Cyberbullying on the rise: Tips for promoting safety online

Complaints about cyberbullying to the eSafety Commission (Commission) are on the rise, particularly since the pandemic. This trend was highlighted in the Commission’s recent ‘Mind the Gap – parental awareness of children’s exposure to risks online’ report (the Report), which explores the ‘opportunities and risks that the internet presents for children in Australia’.1

With the pandemic forcing people to change the way they communicate, work and learn, society’s reliance on technology has increased and this has greatly impacted the amount of time that young children are spending in the digital world. Children now rely on technology in most parts of their daily lives, whether it is using technology to communicate with one another (e.g. through use of TikTok and Instagram), engage in recreational activities (e.g. playing internet games such as Fortnight) or to complete school or homework.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, rising levels of internet usage by children have increased the levels of cyberbullying seen by the Commission, with a 65% increase in the number of complaints about cyberbullying in 2021-22 compared to 2020-21.2

Research indicates that approximately one in five children experience some form of cyberbullying. Girls are bullied more than boys, and the average age of a target is 14.3

Concerningly, the Report found that despite the increased levels of cyberbullying, most children have ‘a positive view of the internet’,4 with an alarming 55% of children stating that they were communicating with someone they first met on the internet.5 Despite these figures, the Report did find that almost all children who were exposed to negative online experiences stated that when they were exposed, they did something in response (most commonly informing their parents about it).6

However, while approximately two thirds of children were confiding in their parents about negative online interactions, the Report paints a dire picture in the level of awareness that parents have about their children’s prevalence to negative online experiences.7 Although many parents have a strong awareness of children’s experiences of online harm,8 many were unaware of the extent to which their children are exposed to different types of harmful content.9 This disconnect shows there is more work to do to reach parents and strengthen their online safety skills.

While ‘parents are a key source of support for children navigating the digital world… more could be done to help support parents’ to help safeguard children and provide them with the knowledge to navigate the digital world.10 This includes support from organisations that work with children and parents to implement procedures that will support parents in protecting children from the risks of online usage, as it ‘takes a village’ to protect children from online harm.11

These trends highlight the importance of ensuring that families and communities are informed and involved in promoting child safety and wellbeing, including online safety, which is a requirement of the Victorian Child Safe Standards and National Principles for Child Safe Organisations.

There are some practical steps that organisations should take to support safety online and protect children from risk of harm.

Assess and manage risks in both the physical and online environments

Organisations working with children should consider specific risks to children facing harmful online exposure that are relevant to their organisation, and consider what measures they can put in place to mitigate these risks.

Provide staff, children and parents with training and / or information about online safety

Organisations should consider providing training and information to staff, children and families on:

  • Rights and responsibilities in the digital age.
  • Resilience and risk: positively framing the use of technology, while also building awareness of factors that decrease and increase the risk of harm.

The Commission also recommends that schools:

  • implement effective whole-school approaches to online safety education; and
  • adopt an integrated and specific curriculum for online safety: building knowledge and skills, both technical and relational.

Helpful resources

The following resources may assist organisations to better understand online safety, and effectively engage with staff, children, families and communities:

How we can help

For assistance with understanding safe online behaviours, and strategies to mitigate the risks of online harm, please get in touch with Moores’ Safeguarding team.

Contact us

Please contact us for more detailed and tailored help.

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1 – eSafety Commission, Mind the Gap – Parental awareness of children’s exposure to risk online, February 2022.2 – Julie Inman Grant, eSafety Commission, Strength in numbers to stop cyberbullying, 3 November 2022.3 – Ibid.4 – Above 1, 6.5 – Above 1, 7.6 – Above 1, 8.7 – Above 1, 52.8 – Above 1, 68.9 – Above 1, 69 – 72.10 – Above 1, 96.11 – Above 3.