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From Sexting To Cyberbullying, Parents Struggle With Kids' Online Safety

One in five Australian children have had negative experiences online, yet many parents don't feel confident managing the situation, according to a new report from the eSafety Commissioner.

More than 3,500 Australian parents with children aged between two and 17 were surveyed for the Parenting in the Digital Age report, published on Monday.

The snapshot shows that a classmate (31 percent) or a friend (22 percent) was often responsible for a child's online bullying, while 28 percent were bullied by a complete stranger.

More than half of the time, the negative online experience was a one-off, but close to one third said that it had occurred multiple times.

Parents were the first port of call for many students and their responses tended to be very similar, with many increasingly monitoring or blocking the person responsible.

31 percent of those bullied online are bullied by a classmate. Photo: AAP

But while more than half didn't feel confident about dealing with the issue, only 36 percent actively sought information on how to best manage situations like cyberbullying, unwanted contact or ‘sexting’.

"The issues are complex, nuanced and ever-changing and are different from what we experienced growing up,” eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said.

She said that 95 percent of parents want more information about online safety.

“Everyone has a role to play in further safeguarding our children online and we are seeking the help of all parents, carers, educators, counsellors and anyone else that has a connection to a child or young person to answer this call.”

John Paul Janke is a Canberra father of four young boys who spend a lot of time playing or watching video games online.

John Paul Janke and his four sons in Canberra. Photo: Supplied

He said the key to helping his boys stay safe is to be open about what they're doing online and keeping connected.

He talks to them about what social media platforms they are on and who they are talking to, with disciplinary measures in place if they step outside of the set boundaries.

"You've got to moderate their engagement with the world,” Janke said.

“The way I look it, you wouldn't drop your kids at the park and drive away. Keeping our kids safe online is no different."

Students of all ages right across the country have been affected by negative experiences, the issue becoming so big that mentoring programs have been set up to try and raise awareness.

The Stars Foundation works with young girls of Aboriginal and Torres Strait descent as they navigate life. Helping the students understand risks online is a key part of the mentoring role.

Kylie Duggan, Stars Mentor (right) with Stars Foundation participant in Darwin IMAGE: Supplied

"My biggest worry is the girls not thinking before they post, or not realising the impact it could have on their lives forever," Darwin program director Kylie Duggan said.

"Images on the internet last forever, videos last forever. And if you don't think before you act it can be very costly."

Like Janke, Duggan said that keeping communication lines open is essential when it comes to online safety.

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"They need to feel comfortable talking to you and opening up to you about issues that they are experiencing online," she said.

"And it's something they can always remember and feel comfortable and confident that they can come to you at any time.”

The governments eSafety.gov.au site has tools, tips and advice for parents, carers and educators to help manage these conversations.