Digital technology: Safe and responsible use in schools

This guide provides principals and teachers with the information to act confidently and in the best interests of students with regard to digital technology. 

Understanding young people's digital and online behaviour

  • Understanding young people’s digital experiences
    • Prevention strategies are effective when they reflect young people’s understanding and use of digital technology.

      Adults and young people participate in the online environment in very different ways. Their views also differ in the perception and management of online risks.

      A study on the attitudes and behaviours of parents and teens in the United States of America (USA)2 found that there is a 45% gap between the perceptions of these two groups when they were asked about how closely the parents were monitoring young people’s online activities.

      A significant number of young people do report negative experiences from the exposure to inappropriate content or harassment. For example, NetSafe research (2010) on young people’s experience of digital challenge indicated that at the time just over half of them reported being targeted at least one instance of cyberbullying or harassing behaviour in the previous year. This was also the most distressing type of challenge they reported.

      But, young people are also often able to merge prior knowledge with technical skill to develop cyber-risk management strategies.3 They often choose to undertake risky practices because they believe the benefits outweigh the risks (i.e. cyber risk and resiliency is a developmental challenge and opportunity for young people).4 Young people also have different levels of vulnerability to experiencing negative outcomes.5

      The findings from a USA study on trends in youth internet victimisation6 found between 2000 and 2010 that:

      • despite large increases in young people’s online access their levels of online sexual victimisation had actually gone down over the time of the study. (19% in 2000 to 9% in 2010)
      • online harassment increased significantly (6% in 2000 to 11% in 2010)
      • reports of unwanted exposure to pornography over the same period was variable (25% in 2000, 34% in 2005 and 23% in 2010).
  • Online and offline behaviours are often closely related
    • Increasingly, young people’s behaviour is a blend of online and offline experiences. For example, online and offline bullying or harassing behaviours are closely linked.

      International findings showed that:

      • 45% of youth who had been the target of online harassment knew the harasser in person before the incident and 25% reported an aggressive offline contact by the harasser7
      • those who are bullied offline are 15 times more likely to experience online bullying8
      • youth who are online victims may be online perpetrators as well.9
  • Online identity can be different to offline
    • In the online environment, it can be quite acceptable to use a pseudonym instead of a real name. It is also possible to set up an online account by providing very little, or even false, information. Even when correct personal information is provided, it can be protected by privacy legislation or by the terms and conditions of use. Learning the identity of a person or persons behind an online identity can be, for practical purposes, impossible.

      This means that it is easy to achieve a high level of anonymity or pseudonymity by using a false name to create a new persona or by co-opting someone else’s identity. Online pseudonymity and anonymity can be used to change the balance of accepted power structures. This can be challenging for teachers whose authority can be easily undermined, for example, through the creation of a spoof website that is designed to attract negative comments from the school community.