Cyber hurt – minimising the risks

Almost half of young Australians have changed their privacy settings in the past 12 months. Photo: Shutterstock

With an ever-expanding number of websites, social media platforms and communication outlets available to use at school and home, cyber safety remains a key concern for families and educators.

In light of National Child Protection Week (2-8 September), Sydney Catholic Schools’ Child Protection Team Leader, Christopher Owens, shares how parents can help their children navigate the risks.

What are the main risks to children in an online environment?

  • Cyberbullying – bullies are no longer contained to the schoolyard.
  • Exposure to sexualised content – especially when filters are not present on computer systems.
  • Online scams – children can be the target of these just as often as adults.
  • Divulging personal information – not only can this make children a target online, but a negative digital footprint can lead to a damaged reputation.

What can you do to help mitigate the risks?

“Parents should talk to their children about cyberbullying before it happens, and help them to develop strategies to deal with it if it does. They should encourage their children to tell them about unwanted contact or threats to their safety, and discuss the consequences of activities like sexting and spending too much time online.

Setting up accounts to learn about sites and apps, and associated risks, is a good way to start.

– Christopher Owens

“Above all, parents should ensure they have knowledge about the online sites and apps their children use. Setting up accounts, to learn about the sites and apps and associated risks, for themselves is a good way to start, as well as learning about privacy settings and how their children use the technology. From there, parents can engage their children in a conversation about online safety from an informed perspective, and assist their children in actions such as setting online profiles to private, managing location services and installing filters.”

Parent information guides are available on the Office of the eSafety Commissioner’s website:

Sydney Catholic Schools’ child protection team has also developed the following fact sheet on how to assist children who experience online bullying.


Safety and numbers: what young people report

The Office of the eSafety Commissioner’s May report State of Play – Youth, Kids and Digital Dangers put the advice above in context. Its survey of the online experiences of more than 3000 young Australians aged 8 to 17 found:

46% blocked or unfriended someone, or increased their privacy settings in the past year

25% were contacted online by someone they did not know

21% report being left out by others

19% report mean things were said about them

Family is the most used informal channel to deal with online concerns.

55% told their parents about an issue

15% told a sibling

Almost 6 in 10 who reported a negative experience online in the past 12 months felt the emotional or psychological impact, or reported a positive outcome from their experiences.

36% said they did not feel good about themselves

35% felt anger or helplessness

11% said their reputation was damaged

90% of the young people who identified themselves as having behaved negatively towards someone online in the past 12 months were at the receiving end of a negative experience also

40% said they became more aware of online risks

33% said they became more aware of who their real friends were

23% said they learned to use the internet in a more balanced way


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