Once upon a time, ‘going online’ meant sitting down in front of a computer, logging on and listening to the otherworldly squeal of a dial up modem connecting you to that invisible global network. Andree Wright, Executive Director, Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner, looks at the experience of young people born into an online world.
Today many of us rarely even think of ourselves as ‘being online’. Whether we’re streaming video on demand, tracking how many steps we’ve walked, or taking a holiday happy snap, we are generally more likely to be online than offline.
The same is true for the classroom: the ubiquity of laptops, tablets, smart boards, and connected devices puts a world of educational possibilities at the fingertips of students – this also means teachers need to be part time IT gurus just to keep the wheels turning sometimes.
Not keeping pace
Today’s young people were born into this connected world and they become technically proficient with internet enabled technology from a young age. However, a child’s development of emotional and psychological resilience doesn’t keep pace with the rapidly evolving technology they interact with.
The result is that while young people find increasing uses for digital technology and experience a greater degree of their identity formed and expressed via social media, they also find themselves exposed to risks associated with the online world such as cyberbullying, online threats and unwanted contact.
The government recognised the need for a national leader in promoting cyber safety and online safeguarding of Australian children, and thus the Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner opened its doors mid 2015.
The office provides a safety net for children affected by serious cyberbullying. It is also proactive as a provider of high quality resources and training for others to use free of charge. These include the office’s virtual classroom programs, the original Cybersmart suite of award winning resources and more recently its Rewrite Your Story initiative.
To ensure our programs and resources are evidence based, our office supports, encourages, conducts and evaluates research about young people’s online safety. Our most recent research involved a national survey of kids, teens and parents who use the internet. Parents were asked about how they approach online safety, and what they need to support their children to be safe online. Kids (aged 8 to 13) and teens (aged 14 to 17) were asked about their internet use and online activity.
This research gives us some helpful insights into the role the internet plays in young people’s lives: 85% of kids and teens see the internet as important in their lives. As young people mature, they spend more time online: kids spend 19 hours a week online outside of school, whereas for teens it’s 33 hours a week.
We’ve also learnt that the time young people spend online is not all about fun and games: 78% of time spent online is devoted to completing schoolwork. Of course, as a truly multitasking generation, young people also manage to spend 73% of their time online streaming videos, movies or TV, and 62% of their time playing games.
Our research has also revealed how young people deal with the negative aspects of their online experiences. In the 12 months to June 2016, 9% of kids and 17% of teens said they were exposed to inappropriate content, and 8% of kids and 19% of teens told us that they were the target of cyberbullying.