During a recent Pastoral lesson, Year 7 students were visited by the team at ySafe and participated in an online safety and wellbeing session. The presentation covered a range of topics including real case studies to help young people behave more protectively and be more aware of the real-life impact of their words and actions online. They were also given useful tips to help establish balance in their own general use of technology.

In a feedback session after the presentations, the Year 7 Class Captains said one of the reasons this incursion was effective was that the presenters acknowledged how important a phone or device is to young people. While many adults lament the amount of time young people are spending on social media, the Year 7s found it refreshing to hear presenters recognise the benefits and understand how much young people enjoy interactions between peers on their phones and platforms such as TikTok and Snapchat. According to the class captains, this made them feel more open to hearing the safety and wellbeing messages.

This reminds me of the challenge that parents, guardians and trusted adults like myself are continuously faced with as we try to guide young people through this complex time of adolescence. Adolescents feel a strong need to fit in with their peers and naturally become more independent and start looking to their peer group for models of behaviour. However, our challenge is to achieve a balance that recognises this and allows them to grow and become resilient while also knowing they still need boundaries and support and guidance from people with more life experience. The online safety and wellbeing presentation achieved this balance as it acknowledged all the things that young people are going to do in their online interactions, but provided advice to help them monitor themselves, think about the risks and consequences of their behaviour, and know what to do if they get into a difficult situation.

The session began with a focus on helping students identify online bullying, understand the impacts of abusive behaviour online and know how to report bullying to the E-Safety Commissioner through the easy online process.

‘Overall, listening to the cyber safety chat was a really good experience as it informed us about the concerns and worries about being online and exposing yourself. We learnt about how dangerous the online world can be and to make sure we are cautious when online.’ - Olivia S (7RTH)

The session also explained the laws around posting or sharing inappropriate content, including the legal age of responsibility, which is 10 in Victoria, and the consequences for young people who may keep illegal content even if they didn’t create it or share it. The meaning and importance of consent even within friendships and with regard to the sharing of images and information online was also discussed. A short video about the importance of consent being ‘freely’ given, without external influence, also emphasised the importance of letting friends make choices without pressuring them.

‘I enjoyed learning about cyber safety and how to keep safe online. Finding out about all the things that are illegal or not was very interesting.’ - Lucy B (7JBR)
‘At the cyber safety information assembly, I learned that if an inappropriate photo gets sent on a group chat, even if you still don't save it or you didn't ask for the photo, you may still get in trouble. The taker and receiver who keeps the photo could get fined.’ - Giselle M (7RTH).

The end of the session concentrated on the impact of too much screen time on a young person’s wellbeing, school life and relationships. They suggested helpful, practical tips to encourage the Year 7s to create healthy boundaries for their online interactions with peers. For example, they discussed the importance of giving friends time to respond and respecting that we all have other commitments beyond our social groups and cannot always respond quickly to messages or posts.

Knowing that harmful adolescent behaviour is often linked to impulsivity, one of the messages from this session also aimed to help the Year 7s slow down, think through their actions and weigh up the potential risks and consequences before posting or sharing online. At ySafe, they use the acronym #PROBS to help young people think about their online behaviour and make better choices. The Year 7s have been encouraged to consider each of the letters before posting to help them decide if their actions will be positive or will create problems:

P - Perceive - how will people perceive this post?
R - Reach - who will see this post?
O - Outcomes - what could be an unexpected outcome of the post
BS - Better Strategy - is there a better strategy to manage this?

We will continue to promote online safety and wellbeing strategies and hope students will apply the valuable information they have gained so they can safely thrive and feel connected online, and in life.

Sarah Nash
Year 7 Level Coordinator