Interacting with strangers is an alarmingly regular occurrence among today’s schoolkids, a new study has found - while online sexual harassment has become the new normal for our girls.
The 2021 Speaking Out Survey of 16,000 schoolchildren, conducted by the West Australian Commissioner for Children and Young People, has uncovered worrying, widespread evidence of stranger danger, unwanted pornographic material and compulsive use of devices.
Almost half of all high school students reported “regularly” chatting with strangers online. And even among primary school students, one-third told researchers they talked to people they didn’t know. The sample included kids as young as nine.
About 17% of Year 7-12s said they were in contact with strangers online at least once a day, as were 8.5 % of Year 4-6s.
Almost half of all high school students reported “regularly” chatting with strangers online.
Girls at risk
More shocking still, 56% of female students reported online sexual harassment in the form of unwanted pornographic messages and images, a figure that suggests such abuse is now “normal.”
Thirty percent of boys also said they’d been targeted for such material. For both genders, these figures represented a rise over previous surveys.
Nine out of ten of those who’d received unwanted sexual material received it through social media.
Compulsive use of phones was also higher for female students. In Years 7 to 12, one in five told researchers they “often” go without eating or sleeping because of their phones.
Girls rated their overall wellbeing less favourably than boys, with one in four reporting poor life satisfaction, self-perception, conflict, relationships, personal safety and independence.
In Years 7 to 12, one in five told researchers they “often” go without eating or sleeping because of their phones.
They also reported more stress. The top stressors they identified were school and study problems (93%) and body image (63%).
Overall, less than half (45%) of high school girls reported high life satisfaction, compared with 65% of their male peers.
Children’s Commissioner Colin Pettit noted that “the number of young people experiencing emotional distress has risen since 2019” - especially among girls. The COVID pandemic has clearly been partly to blame, along with the related spike in children’s screen-time, which by many accounts has doubled over the past two years.
Parents will not be surprised to learn that a third of kids admitted feeling “bothered fairly often or very often” when unable to access the internet.
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