Nearly 80 per cent of Australian children under 10 years of age use social networks. Among older teenagers – those 16 and 17 – parents underestimate bullying and risky online behaviour. But the most likely candidate for cyber-bullying is a 14 year old girl who checks her Facebook account daily.
All are findings of a federal government survey of teenagers’ social media and internet habits, conducted by Newspoll on behalf of the Australian Communications and Media Authority.
The results suggest that parents closely monitor and understand their children’s behaviour online until the age of about 14. After that children tend to take more risks than their parents realise including meeting strangers online and then potentially in real life, posting too much personal information, or sending photos and videos to other people.
By the time teenagers are 16, parents start to underestimate the likelihood of their child being bullied or involved in upsetting experiences. Only 17 per cent of parents said their 16-year-old was bothered by something on the internet, but 26 per cent of teenagers of that age said they suffered through an upsetting experience.
University of Sydney senior psychology lecturer Andrew Campbell said online behaviour changed once children reach puberty.
“The childhood interests are very much around games, or collaboration around something that is fun. Once they hit 14 that is not as important as getting people to like you, so social networks become about being accepted by your peers,” he said.
Dr Campbell said that social media sites favoured by children – such as Moshi Monsters, Club Penguin and Stardoll – were monitored by parents and primarily used for games. But he was alarmed that up to 31 per cent of children under 11 had used Facebook, particularly if replaced face-to-face interaction. Facebook is not supposed to be available to children younger than 13.
He said parents should check their teenager’s online profile, internet searches and the sites they visited.
“We need to know that they are actually accessing safe information and correct information. And if they are not, parents are the best placed to teach them how,” he said.
The study found the internet was becoming more entwined in children’s lives. About half of the eight and nine-year-olds surveyed thought internet access was very important to their lives, up from a quarter three years ago. Among late teens, 84 per cent said the internet was very important.
The survey was conducted via an online questionnaire of more than 1,500 young people in June 2012.
Other findings included:
– Only 13 per cent of older teenagers said that they or someone they knew had sexted a video or photo, though 18 per cent said they or someone they knew had received one.
– Mobile phone ownership was nearly universal among older teenagers, but less than 11 per cent of children under nine had one.
– Girls aged 12 to 17 who used Facebook daily were most likely to be cyber-bullied. Within that cohort, 38 per cent had ended a friendship over their bad experience, 32 per cent had a face-to-face confrontation and 41 per cent had felt “nervous about going to school the next day”.
– More than half of the teenagers who had an upsetting experience online also said it had made them feel closer to somebody. Nearly three-quarters said using the web made them feel good about themselves.