The number of teenagers who are seeking for online help with regards sexting and cyber-bullying recently surged. As seen on latest data released, online searches on the issues increasing by 55 per cent and 39 per cent respectively since the pandemic began.
With the data, the National counseling service Kids Helpline have made comparison with the recent figures from the number of searches for ‘sexting’ and ‘cyber-bullying’ on its website by teens aged 13 to 18 last year, with online enquiries over the same time period in 2019.
In addition, since its establishment in 2000, these figures showed the children’s help website recorded its highest number of overall hits.
The topic ‘All about respect’ has also gained a record-high with a 76 per cent spike from teens aged 13 to 18, coinciding with COVID-19 lockdown periods, according to Kids Helpline. Moreover, searches from children aged 5 to 12 on the topic of ‘Being safe on the internet’ skyrocketed by 21 per cent.
The release of this data is a prior measure of the upcoming international Safer Internet Day, with the theme of ‘Together for a better Internet’. This will event is opted to encourage stakeholders to make it safer for everyone online.
On the other hand, eSafety commissioner Julie Inman Grant said at a budget estimates meeting in 2020 compared the March to September last year reports. She saw that adult cyber abuse doubled and youth-based cyber-bullying monthly averages in 2019 and 2020 increased by 32 per cent.
Additionally, Ms. Grant revealed that illegal and harmful content — mostly child sexual abuse material — increased by 123 per cent, and image-based abuse leapt by more than 172 per cent. “Typically, 70 per cent of Australians have told us they have experienced a negative online experience since COVID hit in March,” she said.
One factor that greatly affected this surged, according to Cybersafety expert and former police officer Susan McLean, is the pandemic in which she said created a perfect storm. This goes along with more children and youth online for longer periods while unsupervised, and predators spending more time online with greater ability to access children.
She emphasized “Kids were unsupervised, parents were at home working … kids were left to their own devices; they were left in their bedrooms while parents were trying to work.”
Meanwhile, manager Tony FitzGerald from Yourtown virtual services said young people were turning to resources online more than ever due to lockdown situations. They were isolated from friends, hence were seeking help online about key issues.
What can parents or guardians do with regards to this situation?
As per Ms. McLean parents needed to take stock of the rules about using technology and the internet at home and make clear expectations. “Parents need to understand they are the gatekeeper to their child on the internet. That means they have to be an active participant in their child’s online world. They need to know what they’re doing, who they’re doing it with. The parent is often the only thing between a safe experience and an unsafe experience for a young person. Never ever allow a child to have an internet connection with a device that has a camera in a bedroom or a bathroom ever, ever.”
As the internet has been widely misused to date, more caution should be of utter necessity.