Out of date: most parents struggle to keep up in the digital age

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

Less than half of parents feel confident they could help their children deal with serious online problems such as cyber bullying, sexting and predatory behaviour, a recent survey of Australian parents has found.

The report, Parenting in the digital age, conducted by the eSafety Commissioner (eSafety), drew on responses from 3,520 parents in Australia of children aged two to 17-years-old.

Only 46 per cent of parents felt they could help their kids resolve online problems and only 46 per cent said they knew where to seek help, according to the survey. And while 94 per cent of parents regarded their child's online safety as important, only 36 per cent actively took the time to find out the information they needed to protect them (up from 27 per cent recorded in the 2016 survey).

The findings reinforced the importance of providing resources to support parents and carers in managing conversations about online safety, according to the eSafety Commissioner, Julie Inman Grant.

"We know dealing with online issues can be challenging for many parents. The issues are complex, nuanced and ever-changing and are different from what we experienced growing up," said Ms Inman Grant.

"Unfortunately, it's not a matter of if, but when our children will be exposed to something negative online – so it is critical for parents to be on the front foot about how to keep their kids safe online.

"Australian parents need to know they are not alone in navigating this brave new online world and that there is constructive guidance to help them start the chat."

Although it can be overwhelming, it is important they learn about the online world their children are navigating.

"Parents really are the frontline of defence when it comes to keeping their kids safe online, so we encourage parents to take the time to get to know the games, apps and social media platforms your child is using, and find out if they are age-appropriate, allow contact with strangers and reveal any personal information," she said.

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"Most importantly, let your kids know that you will help them through any issues when they are in trouble – including anything negative they experience online."

And kids are dealing with some big issues. According to eSafety research, 26 per cent of teens had experienced threats and abuse online and nearly one in three teens in Australia had some experience with sexting – either being asked and asking for, sharing or showing, and sending a nude or semi-nude images or videos.

Author of For Foxes' Sake – a book for teen girls about sex and life online - Row Murray said she's not surprised many parents are struggling to help their kids navigate issues such as sexting and cyber bullying.

"I'm not at all surprised that parents aren't always confident in dealing with issues impacting their kids online, but it's not their fault either," Ms Murray said.

"Kids are digital natives before they're in primary school, and they're already using technology that a lot of parents will never understand. 

"This generation of parents are also the first generation who are dealing with this level of social media, messaging, gaming, porn and other levels of digital use among kids, and there isn't any real guidance out there."

She said parents needed to be more involved in their kids' online world. There's no need for big lectures, but speak to them about online safety, help them navigate privacy controls and safe settings, remind them about the permanency of their digital footprint and always have your 'door open' to discuss any issues without judgement.

"While the Internet can bring our children a wealth of benefits, in terms of education and entertainment, it's not without risks," eSafety Commissioner Ms Inman Grant said.

"Once we provide our children access to the online world, whether it's through a cartoon on YouTube or a game online, they may be exposed to potentially harmful content or contact with strangers if the right protections aren't in place."

As well talking to your kids and taking an active interest in their online lives, she recommended parents take these steps:

  • Ask your child to show you how they use the social media sites, apps and games on their devices.
  • Check the age-recommendation, chat functions and privacy setting on the online services your child uses.
  • Encourage your child to only 'friend' people online that they know in real life.
  • Let your child know you are there to support them in whatever they experience online.
  • Help your child report a negative incident to the platform or service it occurred on.

Parents can get more top tips on how to keep their kids' safe online and provide support at www.esafety.gov.au/parents.