Protecting your child

Child protection and safe people in the community

Your children are likely to see people they do not know out in the community almost on a daily basis- in the park, in the supermarket and walking down the street. These people are often referred to as strangers and it’s worth noting, most strangers are regular, nice people. They just aren’t a part of your day-to-day lives and they have their own friends, families and priorities. 

Children will often see the world in black and white at a young age and this reflects on people who they may see as ‘good’ or ‘bad’.  The statistic suggests that crimes against children from a stranger are rare events but as a parent, it is good to have a number of strategies to help protect your child when they may be vulnerable. 

For parents

  • Stay alert. There are many distractions in today’s busy world but nothing is more important than your child’s safety. 
  • Always supervising your child out in public. If you need to step away, either take your child with you or notify another adult who you trust.
  • Allow your child to understand the boundaries of a new area and provide them with some responsibility that they need to be able to see you or another responsible trusted adult at all times.
  • When you arrive at a new location with your child, agree on a meeting point if either of you gets lost.
  • Always go to the bathroom with your child and wait with them.
  • On public transport, sit beside or very close to your child.
  • Explain to your child what physical touching is permitted by others and who those select few people may be. This includes location-based advice like at the doctor’s office with Mum and Dad or in the bath at home as a part of their regular schedule. 
  • Take any discussion around child protection seriously from your child, regardless of how close you may be to the person being accused of something. 

For children

  • If someone they do not know wants to talk to them or walk to a different location, always check with a parent or trusted adult first.
  • Teach them never to leave your set location with a person they do not know.
  • If someone they do not know grabs them or touches them, give them the confidence to shout ‘Go away, I do not know you’. 
  • If they find themselves on their own or lost, they should remain in a well-lit busy area and seek out help from an adult at a police station, a school or from an adult who has children around the same age.   
  • Teach your children to learn your address and phone number as soon as they are able to. 

The impact of domestic violence

A large majority (80%) of crimes against children are a product of the people they know rather than a stranger out in the community. Having a supportive family is always beneficial to help raise a child and it is helpful to understand the reasons children and young people may be at risk of significant harm, including: 

  • domestic and family violence 
  • physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse 
  • neglect. 

It is important to understand as a parent how much the home environment can affect a child’s life. The impact of violence, abuse or neglect on a child can range from behavioural changes, learning or development difficulties, physical or mental health conditions. 

If you, someone you know or your child is experiencing any form of domestic violence, reach out to the NSW Domestic Violence Line (1800 656 463). You and your child have the right to be safe in all environments including the home.  

Smacking a child

Smacking is a form of physical punishment, using physical force to rectify or punish a child’s behaviour and may include smacking, spanking, slapping or hitting. Australian parents are unclear about what is seen as reasonable or acceptable force and over half believe it is never acceptable to use physical discipline with a child. 

Hitting or smacking a child is not the answer. It may stop a child from doing something in the short term, but they may not have learnt the underlying issue of what the consequences of the behaviour are. 

What does the research say?

Research of over 1,500 studies suggests that physical punishment can have lasting negative impacts on a child including:

  • mental and emotional challenges 
  • lower cognitive ability (children who are smacked once a month have 14-19% smaller brains in the decision-making area) 
  • lower self-esteem 
  • more aggression and antisocial behaviour  
  • potential negative relationships with parents 

Harsh physical punishment during childhood can develop into further complications in adolescence and adulthood including anxiety, depression, substance use and partner violence later in life. 

Physical punishment from a parent is not illegal within the state of NSW but the guidelines are clear on how much force is considered acceptable and parents should consider the above points before using this as a method of discipline. 

It is illegal, however, for physical punishment to be used by an early childcare or education provider staff member, both in NSW and under the National Law Act in Australia. Restrictive practices also fall under this law and are illegal unless the child has a detailed Behaviour Support Plan. 

Crying babies

Crying newborn babies can be an anxious and sometimes frustrating time for new parents. Understanding crying patterns are a normal part of a baby's development can help parents deal with the concerns and distress during this period of their baby's life.

Never shake a baby

Even though parents may be sleep-deprived, exhausted and frustrated when they can't settle a crying baby, shaking them is never advised. Shaking a baby can easily cause short and long-term health complications.

See Coping strategies for parents and carers and the Crying babies for more information on the Period of PURPLE Crying and understanding newborn crying patterns.

Online safety

With today’s rapidly advancing technical world surrounding children, it can often feel overwhelming for parents to know how to understand and talk about safety online with their children. 

Children face a number of potentially harmful issues that present themselves online including cyberbullying and exposure to inappropriate content like pornography or violence. Equipping yourself with the right tools and strategies as a parent can help foster a safe and secure online environment for your child. 

Whether consciously or accidentally, children may be exposed to upsetting or inappropriate material online or be contacted by people they do not know. Below are some tips to help your children stay safe online.

Provide open communication for online safety

While your child is unlikely to tell you everything they are doing, if you set clear and open communication with your children early, they are much more likely to reach out with questions.

Being non-judgmental and considerate of any consequences if they are coming to you with questions can set up a great relationship with your child and prevent possible safety issues from occurring.

Lean into knowing more as a parent

Sometimes, as a parent, you may feel like you don’t know enough about the internet or any social media channels. Educate yourself where you can and ask your children to educate you where they can. This creates trust both ways and can create conversations you previously may not have had with your child.  Don’t shy away from the discussion or bury your head in the sand. You will help protect your child online by knowing more about the platforms they are using. 

Educate your children about online safety

Much like in their immediate world, there can be certain risks with interacting with people online. Although most people are also online to enjoin themselves or catch up with friends and family, some attempt to gain or exchange money, information or inappropriate content.

Teaching your children about strong password protection, changing their passwords regularly and not engaging with people they do not know online can help prevent safety breaches.  

While discussing safety online, it is a good opportunity to talk to your child about being respectful online. See Emerging topics- Bullying and Emerging topics- consent for more information.

Set clear parental controls on devices

For every device within your home or that your child can access away from the home, as a parent, you should be aware of the risk of exposure each has.

You can create parental controls for each specific device, home wifi networks, streaming services, through software you purchase for your family devices and barriers for in-app purchasing. This can help block, filter or monitor where your child is online, block adult/explicit content and prevent phishing or excessive spending with linked credit or debit cards.

Encourage safe social media use

Most social media platforms, including Instagram, Facebook, TikTok and X, require users to be at least 13 years old. If your child is of this age or above, ensure they understand the implications and responsibility of sharing their photos and information online. Setting profiles to private and screening any friend requests can be a great way to minimise risks online.  

Educate your children about sharing information online

Sharing of photos, videos or personal information online can be potentially dangerous and lead to many further problems including identity theft and loss of personal funds. Making sure your child knows that sharing anything online can become permanent, even if only shared with friends for a brief period will help them think before sending things online.

Encourage critical thinking online

No amount of parental monitoring is as good as educating your child on how to spot certain negative content online. If children can question the information they are receiving online, pause and take a minute before any action, this can significantly improve their safety online. Remind your child that they can chat with you or ask any questions about anything they see online.

Know your children’s friends and common contacts

By knowing who your child interacts with online, you can encourage safe behaviour and understand when or where you may need to intervene. Encourage your child to only interact with people they know in real life and explain the dangers of people presenting online as someone they are not.

Know where to get help

If you are stuck on what to do or have further questions about safety online, reach out to friends and family to discuss further. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, speaking to a support person at Parent Line NSW or finding more information on the eSafety website is a great way to find the support you need.

If your child has been exposed to something that makes them feel uncomfortable, support them to reach out to a service such as Kids Helpline.

Evaluating health information online

Parents frequently turn to online information to understand their child’s health-related concerns and to navigate decision-making. However, with so much information online, it can be hard to determine if the information is correct and trustworthy. 

Half of the health-related searches completed online are on behalf of others, for example, the person’s child, parent, neighbour or other relative.

Finding information written online does not guarantee it is correct. The checklist below is a tool to help you find health information from a trustworthy source.

Checklist for online content- The CRAAP Test

C-Currency: When was the information published? Is it current or out of date?

R-Relevance: Does the information relate to the topic you are looking for? Who is the intended audience?

A-Authority: Who is the author? What are the author’s credentials to write on the topic?

A-Accuracy: Is the information supported by evidence? Can you verify the information from other reliable sources?

P-Purpose: Is the purpose of the information to inform/teach/sell/entertain? Are there biases in the information?

Publicly available information is often generic in nature, meaning it is not specific to any one person’s health condition or situation. Websites should generally show a disclaimer outlining the information does not replace medical advice from a family doctor. 

Be cautious about websites which:

  • claim to fix health concerns with one simple step or cure
  • use language that is overly emotive
  • provide details of a payment plan
  • request personal information.

These websites are generally favourable towards the organisation itself and are subjective. 

Credible health information:

  • Your family doctor or pharmacist 
  • Health care phone services, for example:
    • HealthDirect (1800 022 222)
    • Poisons Information Centre (13 11 26)
    • Lifeline (13 11 14)
    • Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800)
  • Reliable health information websites, for example:
Last updated Monday 25th March 2024