Supporting kids dealing with tech abuse
More than 25% of domestic violence cases involve technology-facilitated abuse of children.
Professionals who are supporting children and young people dealing with technology-facilitated abuse (also known as tech abuse) need to consider their safety and understand how technology is being used as a tool to abuse.
On this page:
Types of tech abuse
Tech abuse is abusive behaviour that happens online, on a phone or when using other technology.
This type of abuse can make kids feel unsafe on their own devices – making it hard to stay connected with others.
Children in domestic and family violence situations can face different types of tech abuse:
- Direct abuse from the perpetrator. This includes abuse, threats, harassment, monitoring and stalking, or cutting off a child’s access to technology.
- Indirect abuse directed at the non-abusive parent - through the child or the child’s technology.
What the research shows
The effects of tech abuse on kids and young people in domestic and family violence situations was explored in research commissioned by eSafety in 2020.
The most common forms of tech abuse involving children were:
- monitoring and stalking – 45%
- threats and intimidation – 38%
- blocking communication – 33%.
This abuse typically involved everyday technologies – such as mobile phones (79% of cases), and mostly happened on text message platforms (75%) and Facebook (59%).
It caused real harm, negatively impacting children's mental health in 67% of cases. It also affected relationships with the non-abusive parent (59%) and children’s everyday activities (59%).
How to talk with kids dealing with tech abuse
- Acknowledge the child is a victim in their own right.
- Take their concerns seriously and respond appropriately.
- Do what you say you will do and don’t overpromise.
- Don’t make assumptions about how they might be feeling towards either parent.
- Acknowledge the important role that tech plays in a child’s life.
- Remind them that the situation is not their fault.
Children being abused through technology are more likely to experience other types of abuse from the same person.
Find out more about specialist counselling services available to support kids and young people dealing with these situations. Read eSafety's advice for parents and carers who are supporting young people online.
How to keep children and young people safe
Create a list of online safety rules to keep them safe, (providing they don’t put the child at greater risk). Child safety should always be your main priority.
It’s important to involve older children and teens in your planning. Develop a set of rules together that will keep them safe without aggravating the perpetrator to become more aggressive. Rules for younger children can be set by the non-abusive parent.
Consider the behaviour and potential actions of the perpetrator to help children to prepare for different scenarios and unexpected situations. Make the list short and easy to understand.
You might suggest they:
- avoid posting any locations online or sharing them with anyone. This may include addresses, suburbs, school, clubs, places where they visit family and friends, or shop.
- avoid posting photos online
- avoid checking-in themselves (or others) into venues
- avoid tagging family members online until things are safer
- turn off location services on devices (in case the location is embedded in photos and the device and location can be tracked).
Technology is an important part of a child’s education and social life. Young people may rely on and interact with technology differently to their parents and carers, so it’s important for them to stay connected online where possible.
Other practical advice
- Help to draw up a list of trusted family members and friends, with contact numbers and email addresses. Let the child know about other people who might help too – like a school counsellor or support service, such as Kids Helpline.
- Support them to think of ways to be safe if they want to stay connected with the offending parent. For example, they might need to be more cautious when they post online, especially if the parent wants to ‘friend’ them. You can also help them to practice answers to predictable questions that they might be asked by the offending parent.
- Help the non-abusive parent to understand the apps and websites their children use. Teach them to manage safety settings with their kids and learn about online risks. Read The eSafety Guide for safety information about social media, apps and games.
Find out more about tech abuse in domestic and family violence situations.
5 to 25 year olds. All issues. Confidential phone counselling available all day, every day. Online chat available 24/7, 365 days a year.
12 to 25 year olds. All issues. Phone counselling and online chat available 9am to 1am AEST, every day.
eSafety offers professional development for domestic and family violence service providers, support workers and anyone who works with children and young people who may be dealing with technology facilitated abuse.