How to keep tamariki safe online - research into parents’ knowledge

By Jessica Tyson

Netsafe's latest research reveals a mismatch between parents' awareness and their children's experiences of upsetting online content and has advice for parents to help keep their tamariki safe online.

Netsafe chief executive Martin Cocker says it is one of the first pieces of research where Netsafe has spoken to the children and the parents from the same families and then compared the results. 

"It’s a really good way of understanding what young people experience and then what parents know about their experiences,” he says.

Māori more likely to report harm

In the research, Māori parents were more likely to report their child was treated in a harmful way online. Cocker says the reason could be because the internet reflects society generally "and the things that we see in society that we don’t love about it".

“In fact, they can be exaggerated online. So we see sexism online, we see racism online in probably slightly greater numbers than you would see it in society and so Māori parents are accurately reflecting that when they talk about the young people’s (online) lives being slightly worse than other young people’s lives.”

Exposure to drug taking

The research also showed awareness of exposure to drug-taking was higher among Māori and Pacific parents at 15%. Cocker says this could be because people might be looking online for drug taking content to get knowledge about it or they could be researching the risks involved in taking drugs.

“Māori and Pacifika parents did show awareness of young people’s risks in terms of drug-taking and exposure to drugs than the rest of the population but it’s hard to say much more beyond that. That’s what the stats said and maybe that shows a little bit more cynicism on the part of those parents or a more accurate view of young people’s lives.”

The research identified that 19% of parents were aware their child had been bothered or upset by something online in the past 12 months whereas 25% of children aged between nine to 17 years said that this happened to them.

Only a quarter of parents thought their child could cope with upsetting internet experiences, although the findings reveal parental awareness about the emotional impact their child has is consistent with their child's experiences.

"Many parents did not grow up with the internet so it can be hard to imagine how their children may use it. These findings suggest parents are in tune with their children's online lives despite barriers such as different technological knowledge."

How to keep tamariki safe

To ensure tamariki are safe online, Cocker advises parents to start a conversation with their children.

“There’s certainly technology that can be used to monitor and keep an eye on young people but mostly it’s about a relationship and a conversation that you have to have with young people. Show that you understand and that you’ll be there to support them when something goes wrong.”

If a young person is exposed to upsetting content online, Netsafe says "the most important thing you can do is take what they are saying seriously".

"Try not to assign blame them about how they came across the material. Reassure them that it isn’t their fault. Don’t trivialise what they have seen by saying that the material may not be real because it is important to deal with their feelings first and provide comfort and assurance," Netsafe said in a statement.

Parents can also normalise a young person’s response after they see harmful content, by saying to them that it's normal to be scared or confused by the content they’ve seen.

“Don’t overreact by taking away the technology – this will make them less likely to talk to you if something else happens and it can make them feel like they are to blame. Make sure that they know you are glad that they came to you about it,"

 Netsafe also has an online safety parent toolkit with steps parents can take.

 To get help

If you’re concerned about your immediate safety or someone else's, call 111. If you want help or expert incident advice about online safety contact Netsafe:

  • Email help@netsafe.org.nz
  • Call toll free on 0508 NETSAFE (0508 638 723)
  • Online report at netsafe.org.nz/report
  • Text ‘Netsafe’ to 4282