Staying safe online: The challenge of supporting digital natives

Staying safe online: The challenge of supporting digital natives

by Julie Inman Grant, eSafety Commissioner

Our youngest generation is the first to grow up in a world of constant connection, where the online world is as much a part of their lives as the offline world.

Although our children and young people are highly skilled with the technology, they’re still developing the maturity and good judgment to manage negative experiences they may encounter online and may not understand the personal, emotional and in some cases legal consequences of their behaviour.

With their digital expertise often racing ahead of their parents’ and teachers’, supporting these highly tech-savvy children and young people becomes a challenge.

They are venturing online at a young age and taking for granted skills that their parents are still working to catch up on. Our survey of 3,520 Australian parents revealed 81% have allowed their pre-schooler access to the internet, most commonly for watching videos or playing games.  

This early exposure to digital technology can create diverse and rich experiences for children and young people whose future employment may depend on technology skills. While there are many benefits to being online it also exposes them to a range of possible negative experiences, such as being contacted by strangers, being left out by others or having mean things posted about them.

We all have a role to play in helping children and young people to stay safe online. But how do you do this when they know more about the technology than you do?

You’re not alone if you are feeling nervous – 1 in 4 Australian parents report they feel the same way and 95% of parents told us they need additional online safety information to help them manage the online risks their children are exposed to.  These anxious parents are likely to turn to teachers for support.

While the vast majority of young people speak to their parents (55%) or peers (28%) when they have a problem online rather than a teacher (8%) or school counsellor (8%), parents are more likely to turn to the school for information and support.

Research indicates the most common source of online safety information for parents is through their school – with 56% of parents consuming information from a variety of sources, including the school website, newsletters and presentations. When their child had a negative online experience, 22% of parents sought support from the school.

Educators are viewed as an authority on online safety for children so it’s important for them to know there is information available to help. And they, in turn, can connect parents to tools, tips and advice to help them manage these conversations.

To assist educators with this, eSafety has developed an accredited Teacher Professional Learning Program, empowering teachers to guide their students through a range of online challenges they may encounter.

The live-webinar sessions help teachers understand the current trends in technology, the latest cyber-related laws and the education resources and strategies that can empower students to deal with online challenges. They also cover the common online safety concerns of families and ways to address them, including ideas for how to engage the whole school community in online safety awareness.

Not only can teachers initiate important discussions about online safety issues in the classroom and help students deal with these by using eSafety resources like the The YeS Project, they can also help bring parents along on the journey.

Educators are uniquely placed to take a leadership role in assisting children and young people to understand the importance of online safety. I encourage teachers to register for eSafety’s Professional Learning Program, and to explore the resources and support available on the eSafety website, and share our advice and information for parents and carers.

Teachers who are confident talking about online safety will be able to support their students and build a stronger community that is better informed about how to help them stay safe online.

eSafety is dedicated to helping Australians have safe and positive experiences online. We provide a wide range of tools, tips and advice at to help teachers, parents and carers keep children and young people safe online and start the chat about online safety. We also operate the world’s first (and still only) legislated cyberbullying complaints scheme, where children and young people under 18 years of age can report serious cyberbullying. eSafety works with social media providers to have the harmful content removed, and runs a legislative-backed reporting tool for victims of image-based abuse – or the sharing of intimate images/videos without consent.

Start the chat and visit for tools, tips and advice for teachers, parents and carers to help manage these conversations, including tailored information for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as well as resources in various translated languages. 

Julie Inman Grant is the eSafety Commissioner