Australian parents urged to seek help on children's online safety


More and more children are experiencing online bullying and abuse, but many parents do not know how to keep their kids safe, new data shows.

Less than half of parents feel confident to manage their children’s online safety, while one in three children had a bad experience online.

According to data from about 3500 Australian parents of children aged between two and 17, a third of kids are bullied online by a classmate, 22 per cent by a friend and 28 per cent by a stranger.

The Parenting in the Digital Age report found only 46 per cent of Australian parents felt confident in dealing with the online risks their children might face.

Young people with mobile phones
Parents should talk to their children about their online experience

The e-Safety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant told SBS News 81 per cent of Australian parents are handing over a digital device to their children before they are four years old.

And with more children having negative experiences online, she said it is important that parents keep informed about what is going on.

"So even though parents are time-poor and dealing with online safety issues is challenging, the minute we hand over a digital device is the minute that we should start to make sure that we are as engaged in our children’s online life as we are in their everyday lives,” Ms Inman Grant said.

Building up digital resilience

"Technology is here to stay, but unfortunately children have more negative experiences online and only 28 percent of parents reported that they are aware that their child has had a negative experience.  

The research shows 95 per cent of parents want more information about online safety.

But only one third of parents actively seek information on how to best manage situations like cyber bullying, unwanted contact or 'sexting' and 'sending nudes', according to the new data.

The Office of the e-Safety Commissioner has built educational content on their website to help adults understand the issues.

The commissioner added it is important to build up children's digital resilience.

"Start the chat early, have the chat often, make sure the talks are consistent," she told SBS News.

“We talk to our kids [and ask them] how they are at school, how their sporting events had been, who they are hanging out with. One of the regular questions needs to be ‘what are you doing online', 'what apps and games are you playing', 'is there any drama that you are seeing online' or 'are you comfortable'. So these conversations are really important."

'No one-size-fits-all approach'

The report also described that parents often used different parenting styles to help manage their children's online safety in the home.

Parents with younger children were more likely to control their online access and set rules around internet-use, while those with older children were less restrictive.

Children with computers
Parents are urged to seek support with their children's internet use.

"There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to parenting in the digital-age," Ms Inman Grant said.  

"We see a lot of parents turning to parental control or even tracking devices to monitor, so that will become a question for most parents: to track or not to track?.

"We know that kids are programmed to take risks, but they will also try to circumvent rules that you turn on for them; turning on monitoring devices without talking to them may raise other issues of trust," she said.

Her advice to parents is to talk to their children and tell them how the technology should be used safely.

"It's a privilege not a right and we have to set the limitations upfront," she said.

There was no difference in awareness of negative experiences based on the child's gender, the report found.

It also discovered the most common concerns among parents were exposure to inappropriate content other than pornography (38 per cent), contact with strangers (37 per cent) and being bullied online (34 per cent).

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