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The online space continues to evolve as we adapt how we communicate, date and interact with each other.  New apps and technology create new ways of interacting. The demands of Gen Z’s for new technologies also drives on-line changes.

While evolution and changes in the online space can be exciting, they also have challenges and raise concerns for young people.

Key concerns for young people online.

The e-Safety Commission and the Young & Resilient Research Centre from Western Sydney University recently released a report on consultations with young people to inform the eSafety Commissioner’s Engagement Strategy for young people.

Young people’s three top online safety concerns are:

  1. Interactions with people online (catfishing, fake accounts and contact from unknown people).
  2. Privacy issues such as exposure of personal information, photos and stolen identities; &
  3. Security issues, for example, hackers, scams and malware.

The issue of cyberbullying was raised however, while the 49 young people who participated in the research stated they believed they had enough information on how to deal with cyberbullying, there are many young people whose lives are still negatively impacted, and their mental health affected by cyber-bullying.

Seeking assistance when problems arise online

Young people are seeking help and information from trusted adults such as parents and teachers for assistance and tips on how to deal with problems when they arise on-line.

However, seeking help from adults is not without its own challenges. The rapidity of on-line change means parents and teachers are often left behind in understanding not only the technological change but the impact of the change and how it affects a young person’s life.

Talking to people you don’t know online

One example of this, is talking to people you don’t know on-line.  85% of young people involved in these consultations feel it is likely they will have negative interactions with people they do not know online. This is because there has been a normalisation of chatting to people you meet online and have followers you don’t know on social media.

Hence, simply saying to a young person not to talk online to a person they do not know is not going to be effective when this practice is considered a normal online behaviour.

Other concerns of young people seeking help for problems that arise online.

In going to adults for assistance, young people often have other concerns such as their parents or adults not respecting their boundaries and trying to pry on them.  While this may be done out of concern and fear it can often break the trust of the young person.

The other fear of a young person is they will be blamed for what has occurred. 

How to strengthen help-seeking behaviour for young people

Given young people are more likely to seek assistance and help from an adult they trust, when a young person comes seeking information or support for a problem, they are experiencing online it is important we provide:

  1. Positive re-inforcement.

A young person may have the concerns mentioned above.  They may be afraid they will be blamed, or their boundaries will be invaded, or that their concerns will not be treated seriously.

It is important we re-inforce the action of the young person in coming to us and listen with the intent to understand.  Often, we listen to give advice.  In the majority of cases, the young person wants us to listen to understand what they are feeling and experiencing.

  1. Provide clear, relatable information that includes the consequences of an issues.

If as parents, teachers, adults we don’t have information that is clear and relatable for the young person, make it something that you explore and discuss together.  Given the speed with which technology changes, we can not keep up with it, but we can learn together so we can provide the support the young person needs.

In exploring the issue together, we are not only learning ourselves as parents and adults, but we are teaching our young people how to search for credible, accurate, helpful information.