Young people and cyber-safety

10.126 There will always be challenges in protecting children from material likely to harm or disturb them, particularly in the online environment. The nature of the risks is varied and changeable, and classifying content or restricting access can never be the only response to these challenges. As the Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety observed in its interim report, High-Wire Act: Cyber-Safety and the Young:

The benefits of online applications for young people in our society are accompanied by exposure to a range of potential dangers. Some of the most obvious include cyber-bullying, access to or accessing illegal and prohibited material, online abuse, inappropriate social and health environments, identity theft, and breaches of privacy.[129]

10.127 A recent survey was conducted of 400 young Australians and their families, AU Kids Online.[130] This was conducted in parallel with a survey of 25 European nations, carried out by EU Kids Online. The Australian study found that Australian children aged 9–16 are very active users of the internet, with more children in the Australian survey going online at school than the EU average (96% : 63%), at home (96% : 87%), and when ‘out and about’ (31% : 9%). The study found that they were almost four times more likely than the EU average to be accessing the internet from a handheld device (46% : 12%).

10.128 The risks that were identified by the Australian 11–16 year olds surveyed included: exposure to sexual images online (encountered by 28%); bullying on the internet (13%); receiving sexual messages, or ‘sexting’ (15%); and seeing ‘harmful’ user-generated content (34%)—the latter included hate messages, self-harm, drug experiences, ‘ways to be very thin’ and suicide sites.[131]

10.129 The likelihood of viewing sexual images online varied substantially by age. While 27% of both boys and girls aged 9–12 had seen sexual images in the last 12 months, and 16% had seen them on websites, 58% of boys aged 13–16 had seen sexual images and 45% had viewed them online, while 61% of girls aged 13–16 had seen sexual images and 39% had viewed them online. The likelihood of seeing images of people having sex, as compared to viewing nudity, was five times greater for those aged 15–16 as compared to those aged 11–12.

10.130 The survey found that 70% of Australian parents engaged in active mediation strategies concerning their children’s internet use that ranged from talking to children about their internet use, setting rules for internet use, and blocking or filtering websites on the home computer. For Australian children, the primary source of internet safety advice was teachers (83% of those surveyed), then parents (75%), then peers (32%).

10.131 Such findings draw attention to the multi-faceted nature of risk and cyber-safety issues for children online, and the need for responses that incorporate public education and support for parents and guardians. In this respect, initiatives such as the ACMA’s Cybersmart program play an important role in informing, educating and empowering parents, children and teachers as key parts of a successful cyber-safety strategy.[132]

10.132 Research that actively engages young people as well as organisations addressing their health and well-being, such as that being undertaken through the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre, will also continue to play a key role in addressing these ongoing issues relating to young people and convergent media.[133]

[129] Parliament of Australia, Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety, High-Wire Act: Cyber-Safety and the Young, Interim Report, June 2011, 6.

[130] L Green, D Brady, K Olafsson, J Hartley, C Lumby, Risks and Safety for Australian Children on the Internet, ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation (2011). See also L Green and Others, Submission CI 2522.

[131] Ibid, 9.

[132] Australian Communications and Media Authority, About Cybersmart, <http://www.cybersmart.
> at 22 February 2012. See also Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Connecting with Confidence: Optimising Australia’s Digital Future: Public Discussion Paper (2011).

[133] Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre <> at 22 February 2011.