IMs, DMs and chat
What you need to know
Instant messaging apps provide your child with the ability to send and receive messages in real time. Your child can direct message (DM) or private message (PM), expanding beyond being ‘text’ with image, video and audio calling capabilities.
This type of interaction allows for a more private conversation to take place, for example, your child can communicate directly in ‘private’ with other people.
Instant messaging apps can also allow group chats that can include people that may or may not be in your child’s contact list, or people they know offline.
Advice for parents and carers
What can I do?
- Maintain supervision of your child when they are online
- Encourage your child to identify trusted adults who can help.
It’s never too early to start teaching young children about technology and online safety. The early learning resource Playing IT Safe can help you do this.
Playing IT Safe is a free resource developed for prior to school aged children. It’s an introduction to digital technology and online safety education and includes a series of play-based activities that children can undertake in early learning environments with educators, and at home with parents and carers.
You can access Playing IT Safe at http://www.playingitsafe.org.au
What can I do?
- If your child is using messaging services, chose strong privacy settings or limit the message function to control who can contact your child
- Check whether the apps or online games your child plays come with a message service
- Make sure your child is only communicating with people that they know offline
- If your child is playing a multiplayer game, encourage them to keep the topic about the game only or enable the speakers so you can monitor the conversation.
At this age your child may be using apps and games that have an inbuilt messaging function which allows them to communicate with other people. Many parents and carers may not realise that their child is using this function to communicate with people, maybe even people they don’t know.
Offenders typically use the messaging or chat function in games and apps to strike up a conversation with a child and then try to encourage them to ‘add’ them to a more secure messaging or image and video sharing app, where they will try to illicit child sexual exploitation material.
Turn off chat functions if not required in apps or games. If this isn’t an option, ensure your child knows to keep the conversation about the game or topic and avoid giving out any personal information.
What can I do?
- Talk to your child about their online interactions, who they might be communicating with and how
- Encourage your child to question suspicious accounts or users, as well as unknown, random or unsolicited friend or follow requests
- Make sure your child knows how to report and block inappropriate contact on the apps, games and sites they use should an issue arise.
If your child is using messaging app, they may be doing so to stay in touch with friends or even make new friends. Your child may also be using social media platforms that have complementary messaging services.
Strong privacy settings can assist with managing who is able to make contact with your child.
Some instant messaging apps allow for young people to be ‘matched’ with other people to start chatting, where they are ‘paired’ with people they don’t know.
Other instant messaging apps may have perceived ‘anonymity’, with limited user verification required to create an account or begin using a service. This means that anyone can sign up and create any account. In these situations it can be difficult to verify another user’s identity and who they say they are.
Some apps allow for secret conversations which means the messages are locked to one device, rather than the account, and sometimes require a password to see them.
In some cases, there’s also the option for ‘disappearing’ conversations that appear on a user’s device for a short time.