Australian Federal Police enlist the help of trained volunteers to help promote cybersafety
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Australian Federal Police enlist the help of trained volunteers to help promote cybersafety

The Australian Federal Police is enlisting the help of trained volunteers around the nation to help promote cybersafety to teachers, parents and carers, with 11,000 reports of online child exploitation received by the AFP in one year alone.

The program is designed to teach adults, many of whom may feel overwhelmed by technology, the techniques to ensure young people stay safe online and avoid predators lurking on the internet, but also deal with potential dangers from their own peer groups.

Datacom account manager and father-of-two Kal Thompson, has been volunteering his time to help teach adults how to keep young people safe online. The Australian Federal Police runs the ThinkUKnow program with the AFP's coordinator of missing persons and child exploitation, Marina Simoncini, urging adults not to be intimidated by technology but to help their children navigate it safely.

Datacom account manager and father-of-two Kal Thompson, has been volunteering his time to help teach adults how to keep young people safe online. The Australian Federal Police runs the ThinkUKnow program with the AFP's coordinator of missing persons and child exploitation, Marina Simoncini, urging adults not to be intimidated by technology but to help their children navigate it safely.Credit:Elesa Kurtz

It covers issues including online grooming, sexting, cyberbullying, privacy and helping young people to understand what they post online can affect their reputation in years to come.

The ThinkUKnow program comes from parents, carers and teachers telling the AFP they want to know more about the specifics of what children are doing online, which apps they are using and steps they need to take to keep children safe.

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Marina Simoncini, coordinator of the AFP's missing persons and child exploitation unit, said staff from the Commonwealth Bank, Datacom and Microsoft Australia, volunteered their time to teach the program, along with a law enforcement officer.

Volunteers who attended the session then passed on the information to parents, teachers and carers within their own communities through primary and secondary schools.

She said adults might feel ill-equipped to discuss cybersafety with their children but it was vital.

"Our number one tip is to have the conversation," Ms Simoncini said.

"We come across a lot of parents who find some of the social media technology a little bit too much. It's very easy to think, 'I don't need to know about it' but have the conversation with kids.

"We used to distinguish between the online world and the physical world and that's no longer the case. That is their real world."

Kal Thompson, an account manager with Datacom and Canberra father-of-two, has been a volunteer with ThinkUKnow for a year, delivering the message to local schools. He encouraged others to become a volunteer to help inform their community.

"The program is not hard to deliver. It's very easy to learn. It's not technical," he said.

Mr Thompson said parents were very keen to know which apps were safe or harmful for children.

"We don't particularly keep a list, it's too hard, there's too many coming and going, but we teach them how to look into each one and decide if that's the one they want their child to have access to," he said.

"It's all about using the right parenting techniques, not whether there is a good app or a bad app."

Online grooming occurs when an adult makes online contact with someone under the age of 16 with the intention of establishing a sexual relationship.

The program refers to a real case study in which a young child was chatting to someone while playing Minecraft online and gave out personal information, including where she lived. The girl thought she was talking to someone her own age but the person turned out to be a sex offender.

Mr Thompson said a parent had to be proactive in monitoring their child's online activity.

"One of the best things a parent can do is shadow their child, actually be over their shoulder the first time they use the application and we talk about how to bring that up in a non-threatening way with their child," he said.

Julie Inman Grant, the federal government's newly-appointed Children's eSafety Commissioner, attended a Canberra training session of ThinkUKnow this week.

"Parents are the hardest population group to reach [on cybersafety] but they're also the most important," she said.

"I think there's a couple of reasons. Parents are super-busy these days. There may be a disconnect between their technology knowledge and expertise.

"Yet, kids have the expertise but they don't have the judgement, maturity and resilience to deal with some of the safety issues that may arise.

"They need to know when they're talking to their parents that the parents have their back, they understand the issues and they're going to help them work through the issues. That's why parents are so important."

For more details including booking a session go to https://www.thinkuknow.org.au/

Megan Doherty is a reporter for The Canberra Times

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