Australian parents are now more worried about their children using social media and technology rather than drugs, alcohol and smoking.
According to a recent survey by ReachOut, of the nearly 900 parents surveyed with children aged between 12 and 18, cyberbullying was ranked as the biggest negative with social media use.
Word and Mouth project manager Jim Gow said while these statistics could be alarming, social media use needed to be managed.
‘‘It is about balance; when we talk about cyber safety in our school tours we’re not saying don’t use it; it’s about a knowledge of the pros and cons of what you’re entering into,’’ he said.
‘‘Trusting young people to make an educated decision... if they’re not informed of both sides — good and bad — then they cannot make that decision.’’
More than 40 per cent of the parents surveyed said they were worried about their children’s social media and tecnology use.
This is compared to the 25 per cent of parents holding concerns about traditional risks to young people around alcohol, drugs and smoking.
Mr Gow said education was the key to ensuring children were informed of the online predators and risks involved with using the internet.
‘‘I think any tool that is used can be dangerous, but the concern is that potential predators have moved into what’s commonly known as a young person’s space,’’ he said.
‘‘A lot of people we talk to have been born post-internet, meaning they have always grown up with it.
‘‘It’s about educating these young people, being as clear as possible, so they are aware when they wonder into those spaces.’’
When asked specifically to name their top negatives with social media, parents nominated cyberbullying and harassment as their biggest negative, followed by productivity, restricted content and peer pressure.
Sixty-three per cent of parents also reported their children overwhelmingly turned to them for help with handling bullying cases, despite more than half saying they were not fully confident of where to go to seek help.
ReachOut CEO Jono Nicholas said while the spotlight was placed on parents, schools and government to do more about the issue, he believed social media companies needed to join in as well.
With 97 per cent of young Australians aged 18 to 25 active on social media, Mr Nicholas said global corporations had an obligation to do more to protect Australians using their products.
‘‘It is not good enough for social media companies to tell us they are doing enough,’’ he said.
‘‘Social media is the car of the 21st century — it has opened us up to a new world of possibilities, but we’re now grappling with the tragic consequences this technology is increasingly imposing on our everyday lives.’’
The survey offered advice to parents of children who are experiencing cyberbullying, saying they should know how to block, delete or report anyone who is upsetting them online, while staying up to date with the social media their children are using and how it works.
Parents were encouraged to talk regularly about online issues, and treat cyberbullying as a serious problem so children don’t stay quiet if it happens to them or their friends.
Mr Nicholas said it was often careless actions of others that were so dangerous on social media.
‘‘Cyberbullying is a digital problem, and, therefore, we need a digital response,’’ he said.