Parents underestimate risk of cyber-bullying for teens [ The Sydney Morning Herald, by Lucy Battersby, 2/8/2013 ]

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.

Are social networks child friendly? [, by Garreth Murphy, 31/1/2011].

LIKE more than 500 million people around the world, I have a Facebook account.

My son, who is eight years of age, would like one too. Aside from the fact that his mother and I don’t think it’s wise for a child of his age to be surfing the internet, Facebook doesn’t allow it. Most popular social networking sites, such as Facebook and MySpace, restrict the minimum age of their users to 13. But that doesn’t stop pre-teens from setting up accounts by entering a false age.


A large part of the appeal of Facebook is its accessibility. It’s ridiculously easy to set up an account. Just to prove it, I set up a page in my son’s name. All I needed was an email address (which his mother and I have the password for) and when it came to entering his age, I simply wrote that he was five years older than he actually is. Simple. It takes less than five minutes.

“It’s up to parents themselves,” says Catherine Bolger, registered psychologist with DIT. “They have a responsibility to strictly supervise their children’s and young teens’ access to any internet sites — not just social networking sites. It sounds obvious but parents need to know what their children are doing.”

But pre-teens are resourceful and have embraced technology with an ease that their parents can sometimes find difficult to comprehend. And it’s not just a question of monitoring the family’s computer any more — most mobile phones now have internet capabilities.

More children can now use a smart-phone than can tie their own shoelaces or make breakfast, according to a January 2011 survey by software company AVG. In the poll of 2,200 mothers with internet access and children aged between two and five, more children knew how to play with a smart-phone app (19pc) than tie their own shoelaces.

While there are no statistics available to indicate how many pre-teens have social networking accounts, Facebook themselves say that they take a zero-tolerance line with those who give a false age when signing up.

“Facebook has systems in place to prevent people who identify themselves as under the age of 13 from creating accounts,” says a Facebook spokesperson when asked about their age verification process. “It’s a violation of our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities ( to provide false birth-date information, and we have community verification systems after sign-up to help identify people who are doing this so we can take action.”


Facebook admits that age verification is a difficult area to police. “There is no ‘perfect’ solution when it comes to age verification — on Facebook or anywhere else on the web. A child of any age can head to a search engine and look for whatever they want, from perfectly acceptable material to the highly unsavoury. What the Facebook environment offers in contrast to the wider internet is, in effect, a walled garden that enables teens to share the best of the web and consume it in a safe place where unacceptable content is quickly removed.”

If Facebook itself doesn’t have the answer, what hope do parents have? When it comes to social networking, they can either use software to block the websites or can give in to their pre-teens’ requests and allow them to set up accounts online.

Neither is a real solution, say experts. Linda Criddle, author of Look Both Ways: Help Protect Your Family on the Internet says parents should respect the guidelines of any website that their child wants to join. “Doing otherwise teaches children that it’s okay to disregard the terms and conditions of the service,” she says.

Blocking social networking websites is not the answer, says Simon Grehan of, a Government, sponsored safety initiative, providing internet safety information, advice and tools for parents and teachers.

“Parents have to take a common-sense approach. Parents have to open the lines of communication rather than just looking for filtering options to block social networking sites.”

Although Facebook has self-imposed the 13-year-old restriction, Grehan says that parents should judge for themselves when a child is ready for these types of websites. “Parents know their children better than anyone else. Some kids of 11 are very mature, while some kids of 15 are very immature. So parents themselves are best placed to make the decision of when their children are ready.”

Cyber-bullying remains a big concern of many parents. Last year the case of Irish teen Phoebe Prince made international headlines. The 15-year-old girl, who moved with her family to Massachusetts, was allegedly subjected to a sustained campaign of online abuse, which prosecutors have said led to her suicide in January 2010. And it’s not an isolated incident. Newspapers and the internet are littered with stories about cyber bullying and worse on networking sites.

But parents should take heart. Irish kids are among the most responsible users of social networking websites, according to a Europe-wide study conducted late in 2010.

The EU Kids Online research found that Irish children are the least likely to publish their address or phone number on their profile (just 7pc in Ireland compared to 14pc in Europe) and most likely to have a private profile (11pc). Irish children are less likely to encounter key risk factors — pornography, bullying, sending/receiving sexual messages, going to meetings with contacts first met online– than most of their European peers. Children here ranked 21 out of 23 for having seen sexual images online in the past 12 months.

But the more children use the internet, the more they are likely to encounter risk. Next Tuesday, February 8, is Safer Internet Day, and to mark the occasion, a new online resource is to be launched to help parents get involved in what their children are doing online, ( webwise). Communication is the key when it comes to the internet, says Aine Lynch, CEO of the National Parents Council Primary, which is involved in the Internet Safer Day: “One of the reasons children say that they don’t tell parents about things they come across on the internet that they feel uncomfortable with, is they feel that their parent may take away access to the computer. So it is important that you reassure your child that they can come to you about anything they may have seen on the internet.”

Aine advises that parents establish ground rules with their children: “It is important to talk to your child about the areas of personal information and meeting with online friends. For rules and boundaries to be really effective they are best developed between you and your child. If your child has had an input in developing the agreement in relation to their internet usage they are more likely to see the rules and sanctions as fair and are therefore more likely to abide by them.

“Rules should be very clear that your child does not give out personal information.”

For more see webwise or

Sorry, kids, no privacy for you. State gives teachers free access to student cell phones, laptops [, by Drew Zahn, 26/11/2010 ]

Concerned about “sexting” and “cyberbullying” in schools, Virginia’s attorney general says teachers have the legal authority to seize and search through students’ cell phones and laptops – without consent, warrant or parental permission.

In an advisory opinion addressed to State Delegate Robert Bell, Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II says teachers with “reasonable suspicion” of wrongdoing can confiscate students’ electronic devices to search stored messages for evidence.

“It is my opinion,” Cuccinelli writes, “that searches and seizures of students’ cellular phones and laptops are permitted when there is a reasonable suspicion that the student is violating the law or the rules of the school.”

The opinion states that though the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment normally preserves the right of the people “to be secure in their persons, house, papers and effects against unreasonable search and seizure,” nonetheless, “The supervision and operation of schools present ‘special needs’ beyond normal law enforcement and, therefore, a different framework is justified.”

John W. Whitehead, founder of the civil liberties group Rutherford Institute, however, warned Cuccinelli’s opinion could lead to violations of students’ civil rights.

“This is bad, bad thinking,” Whitehead told the Charlottesville, Va., Daily Progress. “It’s just appalling that people think like this in a country where we’re supposed to be teaching kids to value freedom and civil rights.”

“This teaches a really bad political science lesson,” he continued, “and that’s that the government can do whatever it wants with you.”

State Delegate Bell, a Republican who sits in Virginia’s “Thomas Jefferson seat” – since Jefferson represented the region in the state’s General Assembly from 1769 to 1774 – had originally asked Cuccinelli for the opinion so he could answer questions from school principals in his district.

The administrators were asking how far they could go to counter “sexting” – the practice of students sending explicit or nude photos to one another via cell phone – and cruel and demeaning messages via email and social networks commonly called “cyberbullying.”

“School administrators don’t want to violate anybody’s rights,” Bell told the Daily Progress. “And they don’t want to break the law. But they do want to be able to intervene if they can.”

In his opinion, Cuccinelli cites the 1985 U.S. Supreme Court case New Jersey v. T.L.O, which ruled that “the substantial need of teachers and administrators for freedom to maintain order in the schools does not require the strict adherence to the requirement that searches be based on probable cause.”

Therefore, Cuccinelli concludes, should a student report to a teacher a bullying or “sexting” text message from another student, for example, the teacher should have the authority to seize the alleged bully’s cell phone to investigate the claim.

“It is my general opinion that a search of a cellular phone by a school principal or teacher under these circumstances would be reasonable under the Fourth Amendment and the standard established in New Jersey v. T.L.O.,” Cuccinelli writes. “Moreover, under T.L.O., once a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing exists, a search of a student’s personal belongings does not require the student’s consent or the consent of his parents.”

The only caveat Cuccinelli includes concerns discovery of nude or explicit photos of a minor. Should a teacher discover such photos, the attorney general advises, the phone needs to be turned into the police rather than the school administration, or the teacher could face charges of distributing child pornography.

Whitehead, however, worries that teachers and administrators don’t have the expertise to judge probable cause for such searches and could abuse the power Cuccinelli is conceding them.

“They don’t know what reasonable suspicion is,” he said. “They have one job – teaching students. They’re not law enforcement.”