Reaching the online generation

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.

Internet insight

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.

This digital version of social exclusion is a challenge to both identify and intervene in.

Social exclusion

A large proportion of young people who were cyberbullied were called names, or had lies or rumours spread about them. The largest proportion – 43% of teens, and 50% of kids – were socially excluded.

Social exclusion is not a new phenomenon and has long been a symptom of bullying in the offline world. With the increased importance for young people of online social interactions, victims of cyberbullying are likely to be affected in less obvious ways than sitting alone in the playground at lunchtime.

This digital version of social exclusion is a challenge to both identify and intervene in – for us and for educators. By its nature this form of cyberbullying has an absence of evidence; there’s no offensive content that needs to be taken down online, and often no obvious perpetrator to hone in on.

This scenario serves as an example of why a multifaceted approach is needed to tackle cyberbullying, and a reminder of the vital role education plays in effecting real behavioural change among young people.


As technology and children’s use of the internet has evolved over time, so have we. Our virtual classrooms are available to independent schools across Australia, allowing our expert outreach trainers to reach more students than ever before with online safety lessons. These free, webinar style lessons have been delivered to tens of thousands of students across Australia, and we continue to review and update the content of these lessons to provide the most comprehensive and salient information and advice.

This commitment to staying fresh and keeping pace with changes and trends in the online world permeates everything we do. There always seems to be a new game, app or social networking service that children are using so we provide up to date resources on our iParent portal. We know that children learn while they’re having fun so the office is developing gamified experiences, such as our popular Cybersmart Challenge. We’re also committed to developing programs directly relevant to young people, such as Rewrite Your Story.

Rewrite Your Story is an educational awareness campaign designed to empower young people to consider, converse and take action when it comes to cyberbullying and rewriting their story online. Rewrite Your Story uses young people’s experiences of serious cyberbullying to help others relate, connect and discuss the issues and how they can rewrite their stories too.

We believe listening, understanding and remaining relevant to young people, educators, parents and the wider community is crucial in connecting the dots and bringing us together to create positive change in online behaviour.

Today’s young people, born into an online world, will never know what the squeal of a dial up modem sounds like (although I’m sure there’s a YouTube video of it!), but they need the guidance and support of the parents and teachers in their lives now more than ever.

Get the latest online safety advice and resources for the classroom at .