Screen time continues to worry Australian parents and guardians, with research showing it’s a top concern followed by cyberbullying.
A major survey published in February this year found 42% of parents reported too much unproductive screen time as one of their main concerns for children. Worryingly, one third of parents said unproductive screen time had worsened over the past twelve months.
When asked about areas school leaders would like to learn more, online safety was the most popular topic (63%). Just over one third of families also share this interest and concern highlighting that more understanding and education is needed in this critical area.
As the school year comes to a close and the holidays offer a time for kids to relax and explore online, experts are calling for greater awareness of online safety, particularly when it comes to parents talking to their kids about this important topic.
However, encouraging kids to think critically about the information they encounter is easier said than done.
Liz Hegarty, Global Teen Safety Policy Manager at Discord, which since being launched in 2015 has become one of the most popular platforms among Gen Z and teens.
Prior to joining Discord, Hegarty was Legislative Director at Common Sense Media, a leading U.S. nonprofit organisation focused on helping parents and kids thrive in a world of media and technology. While at Common Sense Media, Hegarty helped advance public policy efforts related to children’s online safety and privacy.
“We believe platforms have the responsibility to keep their users safe, which is why safety is our top priority, woven into every aspect of our product and policies,” Hegarty told The Educator.
“Discord’s multi-faceted approach to teen safety includes resources for guardians and educators about the tools and controls to support themselves or their teens in creating a Discord experience that is right for them.”
Creating a friendly and safe online environment for teens
Hegarty said Discord continues to update and expand its child safety policies and deepen its investment in teen safety in 2023. An example of this was seen in October this year when Discord launched Teen Safety Assist, which comprises a new series of features, including multiple safety alerts and sensitive content filters default-enabled for teen users.
Three months prior, in July 2023, Discord launched Family Center to support families in creating a collaborative approach to digital wellbeing, keeping parents informed while maintaining teen autonomy.
“Teens deserve to have a safe, welcoming space to explore their interests, connect with others, and find a place to belong,” she said. “Forty percent of the app’s Gen Z users say they use it to connect with friend groups and communities as it provides them with a friendly environment for them and their peers.”
Hegarty said open communication is key for keeping teens safe online, especially as parents work to maintain their teens’ autonomy.
“It’s important to create a dialogue between parents and younger users on how to navigate the internet safely, smartly, and securely,” she said.
“Parents can learn more about Discord’s safety settings here and via a third-party guide here. If teens encounter a violation of our Community Guidelines, we encourage them to submit an in-app report of the behaviour by following the instructions on our website.”
Getting the online safety conversation started
When it comes to advice for parents, caregivers and guardians on starting a conversation about better digital health and safe online practices, Hegarty said parental tools are most effective when used with transparency.
“This can help to start healthy conversations between parents and teens about their online behaviour, and we hope that initiatives like Family Center on Discord can help begin and/or continue these important conversations,” she said.
“Conversations about digital health must encourage teens to think critically about their behaviour online.”
Parents and carers should also let teens know that the same rules apply online as offline, and encourage open conversation about the content they see and share online, Hegarty said.
“Additionally, we encourage guardians and educators to try Discord to understand how it works from the inside, making it easier to talk to teens about staying safe online.”
Discord as an educational resource
Hegarty said Discord has made it easier for students to find and spend time with their classmates outside of the classroom through the app’s voice and video call functions as well as other specific use cases.
“Whether they’re collaborating on a project in a newly-created study server, or taking a break from reading to get a few games in with friends, it’s all happening on Discord thanks to our amazing third-party developers,” she said.
“For example, Jamspace Whiteboard is an Activity developed by Discord that can be launched within a Voice channel or DM call, directly within Discord by clicking the Rocket Ship button.”
Hegarty said having a digital whiteboard can be a great way for young people to collaboratively study with their classmates and friends.
“Post sticky notes and move them around a flow chart, collaborate on a maths problem, sketch out a prototype, point to a specific area of text, mark the best one with a star, and so much more.”