Digital Safety: A Guide for Young People

Late last year the Australian eSafety Commissioner and Netsafe New Zealand ran Online Safety-On The Edge bringing together influential leaders and thinkers from around the world who are dedicated to creating a safer online world. Given that Tuesday 6 February is Safer Internet Day, there’s no time like the present to talk about safety online. 

A common theme throughout the conference was about how adults can help young people and children navigate spaces online and the amazing opportunities online spaces can offer us. Here’s some key takeaways for adults who want to help young people to be safe online.

  1. Most adults have the digital skills of a 12-14 year old.

This statistic is not designed to scare, but to create more reasonable expectations. No adult is going to be able to keep up with what children are doing online, or have the time to vet everything that they are doing on their devices. Instead, parents and teachers should talk to children about expectations around internet use for example, no devices in the evening, never part with your credit card details if you aren’t sure, flag anything that makes you feel worried or uncomfortable online.

  1. “Sexting” isn’t as bad as we think it is

“Sexting” is a term used to describe the sharing of intimate images, audio or video with another person. It’s easy to think that phenomena like sexting is new  but really, when it comes down to it, it is the modern way young people have relationships. In fact, teenagers who are doing it now don’t even call it “sexting” it’s just a part of discovering your sexuality.

It is also less common than many people think. Only around 5% of Australian and NZ young people said they have sent images of themselves to another person in the last 12 months. It is most important to support and have open dialogue with young people rather than tell them not to do it. Watch our video on sexting made for our website for teenage girls Rosie

  1.  Are we teaching children and young people that they are responsible for creating a better online world?

“Being online allows many young people to use their voice.”

Tina Hosseini, Youth Commissioner of the Victorian Multicultural Commission

Instead of thinking about the internet as something that we should shield children and young people from, it is more helpful to tell them that they have a powerful role creating the online spaces and societal change they want.

In fact, it is their responsibility to do so and we should be communicating that to them. If all internet users work together it is much more effective because everyone brings different skills and ideas to the table. Increasing empathy and respect is key to improving behaviour everywhere, whether offline or online.

  1. How can we build digital respect and resilience?

“Let’s not do it all in fear.”

Mia Garlick, Director of Policy, Australia and NZ, Facebook

Amanda Third, Principal Research Fellow in Digital Social and Cultural Research in the Institute for Culture and Society, has been concerned with how society and culture influence young people’s technology use. Amanda says that adults can help young people build their resilience online. She asserts that vulnerability and making mistakes or having some negative outcomes online can actually help build resilience. Sometimes, having negative experiences can be learning opportunities and that adults, as parents, teachers and supporters, we can support young people when they need it by trusting them to make mistakes that will build their digital resilience.

  1. The internet is full of opportunity

“When you ‘protect’ us you cut us off from opportunity.”

Rosie and Lucy Thomas, co-founders of Project Rockit

For many people, young people in particular, the internet can offer a sense of community and support that they may not be able to find elsewhere. Growing up and exploring your identity can be a very difficult time for young people, but being able to connect with others online and finding a “tribe” can make that discovery a whole lot easier. It also provides a wealth of information and resources that couldn’t have been dreamed of twenty years ago. It’s time we celebrated the great aspects of the internet and the positive actions young people are taking online. The internet is not the big scary place that people seem to think it is; it’s an opportunity.  If you want to read more our Rosie website has an article on the opportunity the internet presents.

Useful resources for parents, teachers and young people: 

eSafety Commissioner
Facebook for Parents
Project Rockit

Casimira Melican
Casimira Melican is the lead policy researcher at the Victorian Women’s Trust and a regular contributor to the VWT blog. She has co-written submissions to the Victorian and Federal Governments on diverse topics such as women’s superannuation, paid parental leave and women’s leadership. She is passionate about creating a world where everyone feels safe always, whether offline or online.

Follow on Twitter @CasimiraMelican or LinkedIn @Casimira Melican 


2017 Department of Communications and the Arts public consultation into a civil penalties regime for non-consensual sharing of intimate images

2017 Department of Communications and the Arts public consultation into a civil penalties regime for non-consensual sharing of intimate images

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2016 Harm being done to Australian children through access to pornography on the internet

2016 Harm being done to Australian children through access to pornography on the internet

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Our submission highlighted that education around consent and respectful relationships was the best way to empower young people to navigate a world where the pornography is easily accessible to them and their peers.

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Digital Safety: A guide for women

Digital Safety: A guide for women


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