Parents need to be up front and honest with children about technology to ensure they stay safe online, writes Amy Williams of the Alannah & Madeline Foundation.

Instagram and Snapchat are the apps of choice for my 12-year-old son, who has his own smartphone, while my 10-year-old daughter uses her phone mostly for Kuddle (an under 13 version of Instagram) and my youngest son, 8, plays online games on a tablet.

They are three bright and curious children who are embracing technology in their own and different ways.

Technology is a wondrous thing for kids. It’s opened endless opportunities of entertainment, engagement and education. But with this digital world now so accessible in the palm of a small hand – parents are also faced with new and challenging issues.

As a primary school teacher of 15 years, a mother, and now a Digital Licence Advisor, I’m a great believer that knowledge is power and the need to be proactive about discussing the implications of technology, whether it’s cyber bullying, sexting, gaming, trolling or identity theft.

Tough talks

I don’t shy away from important conversations. I’ve already had the chat about sexting with my children and I asked them what they thought “sexting” meant. All of them were aware of it. That did surprise me.

Trust me, this is a conversation I don’t really want to have, but it needs to be had – and as a parent you can’t just put your head in the sand.

Permanent pixels

When I talk with children and parents in school environments, a key topic of conversation is digital reputation. Children don’t realise that any uploaded photo, message or video stays with them – it’s there for good. Forever.

So, in a few years’ time, when they start applying for jobs, prospective employers will search them online and potentially find this material.

Life learning

Just like in life, we’ve had our slip ups with technology at home.

A few months ago my 8-year-old was playing a game on our family tablet device and spent $320 to advance to a new level in the game, using my credit card details. It’s safe to say I was shocked at how easily the transaction occurred. Could this be happening in your family too?

Play safe/play nice

In my experience, it’s important that parents know what their children are doing on their smartphones and online. Recently my 10-year-old posted a very tame picture of herself in her school uniform on Kuddle. From our ongoing conversations about online safety, she realised herself that this might draw attention to where she goes to school and identify her to others.

While my eldest was involved in a group chat with some of his friends. One of his friends didn’t take too kindly to a comment from one of the boys and felt bullied. Is this just growing up nowadays or is there a better way to educate and learn?

As technology evolves, so do we as parents. Keeping our children smartphone safe, while enabling them to maximise the positive potential of digital technology, I believe is a shared responsibility. And ongoing conversations with children are vital to achieve this. Parents, families and schools need to share the responsibility of teaching children how to be smart, safe and responsible online.

Check out our top 10 smartphone tips for parents.

eSmart Digital Licence

In early 2017, the Alannah & Madeline Foundation will launch separate eSmart Digital Licences for those under the age of 13 and those 13 and older. Register your interest here. The eSmart Digital Licence was launched in February 2015 and is now being used by more than 200,000 Australian students across 2,100 schools. It is an online interactive program allowing children to work through eight modules of multiple-choice questions, having fun and learning vital and practical lessons. It was developed by cyber safety experts, technologists and teachers with hundreds of children and parents consulted during its development.