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Over the last three years, the eSafety Commission has released a paper on different aspects of young people’s online behaviour. 

In February, they released the paper “Mind the Gap – parental awareness of children’s exposure to risks online.”

The report highlights that while the internet provides many positive experiences for young people to interact with peers, learn and seek information and be entertained, there are still risks that need to be managed and navigated. Indeed, one of the biggest parental challenges is equipping and assisting our children and teenagers in an increasingly digitalised world.

Parental involvement is not just when children are small or in primary school. Digital parenting must continually evolve as children grow older and are faced with different types of harm or content that may be harmful.

Benefits of online activities.

Most young people have a positive view of the internet and being online and use it in various ways. For example, they use the internet to watch videos for learning, entertainment, and gaming, searching for health information, including mental health and sexual health. Increasingly, young people seek emotional support online, either from their friends or mental health support services. 

Seeking online support is an important benefit of being online.

Taking action in response to negative online behaviour.

Many young people still experience negative and hurtful behaviour online. For example, close to half of the children surveyed in this report had experienced nasty and hurtful behaviour online, and one in ten children had been the target of hate speech.

However, what is encouraging is that many of the children in the survey took action in response to the negative online experience.  

The most common response was to tell their parents. This highlights the importance of parents maintaining an open, trusting environment where children feel they can share what is occurring without feeling they will be judged, criticised or in some way blamed for the situation.

Other actions young people take in managing negative online behaviour include:

  • Blocking the person.
  • Talking to their friends.
  • Deleting messages and changing their privacy or contact settings.
  • Reporting the material to the website or social media company.

The importance of parental support.

The fact that so many young people act when they have a negative online interaction is positive, and something parents can reinforce.

One finding from the report is even when children tell their parents about bullying experiences; many parents don’t always recall these to the same extent. This suggests parents do not understand how seriously these experiences impact their children. 

Even though children will act after a negative online experience, they are still likely to feel an emotional impact such as sadness, anger, and not feeling good about themselves.

As parents, we can often discount these emotional reactions from our children once the initial situation has been dealt with. It is essential, particularly if our children struggle with anxiety, that we assist our children normalise their reactions and then recover.

Feeling sad and angry when subjected to hate speech or bullying is a normal healthy response. It is how we manage that response that is important. 

In terms of dealing with the sense of not feeling good about themselves, parents need to encourage positive friendships and experiences and promote healthy self-esteem.