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New Zealand children’s experiences of online risks and their perceptions of harm

Cyber safety Internet access Online privacy Technology and youth Child safety New Zealand

Children’s experiences of risks and harm caused through digital technologies is not only a matter of interest in policy and research but also a concern for whānau and parents, schools and kura. While there is growing body of New Zealand-based research on the topic, children’s own accounts of their experiences of risks and harm in the digital age based on representative data is still limited. To fill the gap, this research report presents findings from a quantitative study regarding different aspects related to risks and online safety. It looks at the online experiences that children find bothersome and upsetting and explores the hurtful behaviours they encounter or engage in, both online and in person. Evidence regarding exposure to different types of potentially harmful online content is also presented. Another relevant contribution is the insights related to excessive internet use.

Key findings

  • Nearly four in 10 New Zealand kids have had contact online with someone they didn’t know, and one in 10 have met someone they first knew online.
  • Older kids were more likely to have had contact online with someone they have not met in person rather than young children. Only 23 percent of 9 to 11-year olds and 38 percent of 12 to 14 year olds had interacted with someone new online, while 54 percent of 15 to 17 year olds had made contact.
  • Some kids met people face-to-face that they first got to know online. Those aged 9-11 were less likely to have met someone (3 percent), the rate increased for 12-14 year olds and was highest among those aged 15-17 years (18 percent).
  • Of the study’s teenage participants (aged 13-17), 36 percent said while online they had seen violent images and 27 percent viewed hateful content.
  • Teenagers are accessing self-harm material (20 percent) and some are even digesting “how-to-suicide guides” (17 percent). Fifteen percent searched information on “ways to be very thin”.
  • Participants were questioned about who they turn to for help in the wake of an upsetting online incident. An overwhelming 69 percent chose a parent, 37 percent a friend and 17 percent a sibling. Eleven percent of children elected to speak with no one.
  • Of the teenagers who report being exposed to potentially harmful content, 28 percent said they were “fairly” or “very” upset and that number was higher for girls (38 percent) compared to boys (18 percent).
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