Online safety for online life and ministry

Conversation | Molk | 20th April 2020

NSW/ACT Synod’s Safe Church Educator EMMA PARR shares her recommendations for being safe when you work with young people online, and how to help kids safe when they’re online.

Streaming your weekly worship service? 
Got kids doing some school work online? 
Monday night extended family dinner now held over Zoom?

Life has so many online aspects while we are in this physical distancing phase of life! But we need to be cautious, particularly when it comes to our children and young people, that they are safe in online environments, just like we would with physical environments. 

It worth reminding ourselves (or learning if this tech is new to you) about safety in these online spaces. Whilst the most basic advice is to show the same respect and care online as you would in person, sometimes it is hard to gauge where boundaries are when the world is in our pocket (quite literally, on your handheld device!)

Read advice on ‘Being a Safe Church in Cyber Space’ from Rev John Cox, National Safe Church Unit, Uniting Church in Australia.

Different Age-groups have different considerations when it comes to online safety. One we’ve been asked about recently is online safety for pre-school age, so a summary is included below. There is more comprehensive information on under 5s, Primary age 5-12 year olds, and Teenagers 13-17 year olds on the eSafety Commissioner website.

Online Safety for Under 5s – “Be safe. Be Kind. Ask for Help”
Be safe – set up parental controls/filters but also supervise device use as ‘safe settings’ are not fail safe. 
Talk to your child about the connected world and just like in the real world we only talk/play/share with ‘safe people’ that we know, and never give out personal information online.

Be Kind – encourage positive behaviour and model healthy behaviour, like time limits on screens and by asking permission when you might want to share a photo of your child, so they see respect and consent modelled from a young age.

Ask for Help – teach your child to ask for help from a trusted adult if they don’t understand or if something is upsetting or scary. Also encouraging your child to ask before doing anything new online – perhaps there is a new website they want to visit or a new feature in a game, check first.

What does this mean for our ministry with different younger generations?

If your church ministry team are thinking about online ministry with younger generations, here are three key principles to consider as we think about our duty of care in an online space and planning for this possibility. Just as we would with a program happening at the church, we need to plan, risk assess and be approved by Church Council before we jump into it.

  1. The platform and manner we gather/communicate is open and transparent for participants and parents/carers and is age appropriate. 

    This means parents need to give clear written permission for participation in this new way, and they know the boundaries of what we are running (time, location, avoiding one-on-one, and behaviour/respect/dress-code expectations).
  2. We must create an environment in which all children feel safe and are cared for, respected, nurtured and sustained. 

    We maintain same supervision ratios in online groups as we would in person and at least two screened and appointed leaders are running the activity and are in control of the meeting. All participant have opportunity to participate and share/be heard as a valued member of the group. It is recommended that a parent/carer are in the room with Primary-age children or younger if connecting in a live video or chat with their group.
  3. We have the same child protection obligations online that we would in person – should we become aware about a concern for a child or young person, seek advice.

    Talk to your safe church contact, or your minster/team leader if you have concerns about a child in your ministry group.

The Australian e-Safety commissioner website has some excellent resources for parent and carers, as well as kid-friendly and teen-friendly pages to help them understand how to be safe online too – what better way to learn about online safety than a specially made website eh?! These are definitely worth checking out. 

eSafe Kids Page – https://www.esafety.gov.au/kids

eSafe Young People Page – https://www.esafety.gov.au/young-people

Advice for Parents & Carers – https://www.esafety.gov.au/key-issues/covid-19/advice-parents-carers

If you’ve got more questions, you can always contact me (Emma) or chat to the PULSE team – Karen, Joyce, Ofa, and Molk.

Stay safe, ministry friends and colleagues, across cyber space!