Safer Internet Day: Parental awareness of children’s online risk is low

Most parents are not aware of how often their teenagers are encountering harmful content online, including content about drug taking, suicide and violent sexual material, according to new research released today by the eSafety Commissioner to coincide with Safer Internet Day

The research report, Mind the Gap: Parental awareness of children’s exposure to risks online, found children and teens are often treated in a hurtful way online and most teens have been exposed to harmful and sexual content.

It also identified significant gaps in parental awareness of children's experience and exposure to some online harms and risks.  

Australia’s eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said many parents didn’t grow up in today’s sophisticated digital environment and the research shows they are underestimating the prevalence of children’s negative online experiences.  

“Children also may not be telling their parents about experiences that are embarrassing, sensitive or concern stigmatising topics such as drug taking, suicide, self-harm, and unhealthy eating,” Ms Inman Grant said.  

“However, parents have an important role to play in children’s digital lives and the research shows that digital parenting needs to evolve as children grow older to better respond to children’s encounters with harmful content. 

“Our education resources, like the family tech agreement we are launching for Safer Internet Day, can help families bridge this chasm between perception and reality and work together to help children have safer experiences online.”  

The eSafety research found: 

  • Parents have low awareness of teens’ exposure to harmful content on stigmatised topics such as drug taking, suicide, self-harm and unhealthy eating, gory images and violent sexual material – 6 out of 10 of teens have been exposed to such topics whereas only 4 out of 10 parents are aware.
  • Parents also have limited awareness about their children’s experiences with cyberbullying. Nearly 70 per cent of the kids who were treated in a hurtful or nasty way online told their parents. But parents don’t recall these experiences as vividly or to the same extent, with 51 per cent of parents saying they were aware.
  • Parents have better awareness of other harms such as their child’s experiences of being asked to share sexual images of themselves (11 per cent of teens have experienced this while 10 per cent of parents are aware), or where their child been a victim of fraud (6 per cent of children have experienced this while 6 per cent of parents are aware).  

Ms Inman Grant said the research showed that almost all children surveyed took tangible action in response to a negative online experience.   

“Encouragingly, children are more knowledgeable and empowered to utilise online tools to block people, delete messages, change their privacy settings or report material to a website or social media platform,” Ms Inman Grant said.  

“More than two-thirds of children also told their parents of negative online experiences. This help seeking behaviour, by confiding in parents has risen significantly in recent years.”

The research found that while children with restrictive parents are less likely to be exposed to harmful content, they are also much less likely to engage in supportive and protective online activities.  

“This suggests that parents need to strike a balance between restrictive mediation and allowing their children more freedom – but also by keeping lines of communication wide open,” Ms Inman Grant said.  

The release of this research coincides with Safer Internet Day – a day when the world comes together with a shared vision of making online experiences better for everyone.  

“This Safer Internet Day we are encouraging Australians to play their part to promote positive online behaviours by being safe, respectful and kind with the theme of ‘play it fair online’ (#PlayItFairOnline),” Ms Inman Grant said.   

With Safer Internet Day coinciding with the start of the school year, eSafety is kick starting online safety learning plans for parents and educators with a range of downloadable education resources.   

“eSafety will be launching a family tech agreement for five- to eight-year-olds. This encourages kids to collaborate with their parents to establish and revisit their online safety practices and commitments during the year. This builds on important online safety conversations happening in classrooms around the country,” Ms Inman Grant said.

eSafety is also offering more of our popular live virtual classroom webinars, ‘Be an eSafe kid: Your voice counts’ that explore how middle and upper primary school students can be safe, respectful and kind and use their voice to ask for help when things go wrong online.

For parents and carers, eSafety has free interactive webinars to give them the knowledge, tips and tools to help their children thrive online.    

Background information 

  • Safer Internet Day is an annual, worldwide event. In 2022, it falls on Tuesday 8 February. Safer Internet Day aims to create a safer, better internet for all.  
  • eSafety’s awareness campaign encourages audiences and supporters to Play it safe and fair online’ #PlayItFairOnline. 
  • The eSafety Commissioner is the Official Committee for Safer Internet Day in Australia and is responsible for promoting the initiative locally. On Safer Internet Day, millions of people unite to inspire positive change and raise awareness about online safety. 
  • Data for the research was collected from August to September 2021 and comprised a national survey of 3,590 children and young people aged 8 to 17 and their parents, covering a wide range of online activities, behaviours and experiences. 
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