The secret digital lives of Aussie teens

How many of us really know what our kids are experiencing online? New research from the eSafety Commissioner pulls back the virtual curtain. 

The digital health and wellbeing of young Australians received a mixed report from a new study based on survey responses from more than 600 boys and girls aged 12-17.

The most troubling finding? Nearly half - 44% - reported having a negative online experience in the previous six months.

Among kids aged 14 to 17, the figure was even higher, with one in two reporting issues.

Almost a third - 30% - said the problems related to online bullying at school, with the highest frequency among 12- to 13-year-olds.

The most common issues

Looking more closely at the nature of negative online interactions, the study found a third involved contact with a stranger. 

Being on the receiving end of porn, violent images or other unwanted content accounted for another 20% of the issues teens reported.

Deliberate exclusion from social events and groups (16%) was the third-ranked source of difficulty.

There is no way to sugarcoat such findings, especially considering that these numbers are based on teens’ self-reports. The real numbers are almost certainly higher. 

Hopeful signs

But there were also glimmers of good news, the study found. 

More than 80% of kids took some form of action after a negative experience, including

  • Blocking the account or person (54%)
  • Getting advice from family and friends (43%)
  • Reporting the abuse (40%) 

Compared to a similar study conducted in 2017, these findings show today’s teens to be notably more proactive in taking formal steps to addresss issues (reporting and blocking) - and that is good news indeed.

The data shows that there may be a shift in the way teens deal with negative online experiences, from informal approaches such as talking to family and friends to more self-help (e.g. blocking, unfriending) and formal reporting.

- eSafety Research, The Digital Lives of Aussie Teens

Among those who opted not to report issues, a quarter admitted feeling embarrassed and/or fearful of retaliation. One in five said they didn’t believe reporting would change anything.

The research also found teens had clear preferences when it came to learning about online safety.


Information provided through school-based online safety classes was the top choice, followed closely by advice from “a trusted eSafety website” and discussions with parents and carers. 

The upside to the downside

In other good news, the survey found nine out of ten teens had done at least one positive thing online, whether supporting a friend who’d had a bad experience, posting nice comments or ensuring friends were included online.

One surprising finding was that kids who reported having a negative online experience were much more likely to show this type of good digital citizenship. 

Working through problems experienced online, this finding suggests, can be a growth experience for children, leading to greater empathy and a heightened sense of responsibility.


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Topics: Cyber Bullying, Parental Controls, Screen time, Pornography, Mobile Apps, Excessive Device Usage, teen safety, sexting, cyberbullying, teens on social media

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