Tackling online pornography on many fronts

It’s no surprise that Australian children and young people are spending more and more of their time online, with increasing access to devices and technology at their fingertips. And while the benefits are extensive, we can’t ignore the potential risks increased online exposure poses for our children, particularly with more access to pornography that is increasingly violent or portrays gender-based abuse.

The Government recently responded to a Senate References Committee on Environment and Communications report on Harm being done to Australian children through access to pornography on the Internet.

As part of this response, the Government has asked the eSafety office to convene an expert committee to help shape possible policy measures. As Chair, I have convened a select group of experts drawn from the membership of the Online Safety Consultative Working Group (CWG) to assist—a cross section of online safety experts from industry, government, child advocacy, education, academia, not-for-profit and law enforcement sectors.

At the eSafety Office we have bolstered our education materials around this issue on our website. We want to help parents understand the risks, learn how to speak with their children about these issues and help young people build resilience. As such, we have worked with Dr Justin Coulson, one of Australia’s leading parenting experts, to provide parents with much needed practical guidance for dealing with their children’s or teen’s exposure or potential exposure to online pornography.

While education and engagement with our children may serve as the initial frontline defence, there is no single solution to preventing children accessing harmful online content. Parents need to be vigilant in employing a range of protective strategies to prevent and minimise the risks and effects.

A multi-pronged approach may also include deploying parental controls to help limit the types of content and apps children can access, but technology tools, in isolation, will not serve as a total panacea. The ‘set and forget’ mentality can lead to parental complacency and determined tech savvy kids can find ways to circumvent technological protections. In short, there is no substitution for adult engagement and oversight in children’s online lives.

While we cannot monitor our kid’s online use 24/7, we can speak to them about potential risks and help them to develop good cyber-judgment and resilience when they do come across inappropriate or concerning content. We also need to be in tune with what our kids are doing online and what apps and games they’re using. Open and honest discussions should be had early and often so that kids can be aware of the risks and to create an environment where our kids feel comfortable to open up to us about any issue they’re having online, whether it’s something they’ve seen or someone they’ve spoken to.

This is a broader societal issue, playing out on a global scale, and should be tackled with a holistic approach taking into account parental engagement, education in schools and empowering children with critical thinking skills and resilience.

Our Parent portal shares a range of strategies parents can take to help ensure safe online experiences for their children and our 7 ways interactive helps parents manage web-connected devices in the home.

The Office will continue drawing upon the research and expertise of the CWG and other specialists to inform our approach to tackling this issue and in making recommendations to the Government. We will also be periodically updating our guidance with new insights so be sure to check out our latest advice for parents on children and teens accessing online pornography.