Parents fear social media and technology more than drugs, alcohol or smoking

Parents are concerned about the anonymity of social media.

The youth mental health support service ReachOut surveyed parents of 12 to 18-year-olds about their concerns and found that 45 per cent were worried about their children’s use of social media.

Technology closely followed at 42 per cent.

In comparison, 25 per cent were worried about their children using drugs, alcohol or smoking.

ReachOut chief executive Jono Nicholas said parents were worried about the everyday use of social media and technology.

“It’s an important part of their social network but in many instances they’re not sure if they’re safe while using social media sites,” Mr Nicholas said.

“Unlike some of those other products, where I guess from a parent’s point of view, you can at least try and keep them away.”

ReachOut surveyed 890 parents in December 2017, a month before the suicide of 14-year-old Amy “Dolly” Everett put cyberbullying on the national agenda.

Mr Nicholas said parents were concerned about the anonymity of social media.

“They’re really concerned about the nature of bullying that may happen on social media sites and how easy it is given that this is a product that young people are likely to use every day,” he said.

“That the harm and particularly the psychological harm can be really significant.”

If you or anyone you know needs help:

  • Lifeline on 13 11 14
  • Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
  • MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
  • Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
  • Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36
  • Headspace on 1800 650 890

ReachOut wants technology companies to do more to protect young people.

“Those platforms are the only ones who can improve some of those safety controls,” Mr Nicholas said.

“We’re certainly calling on the social media companies to do more to make those environments safer particularly for children and young people.

“These companies have some of the smartest minds in the world. We really want them to also come to the table and say ‘here’s what’s the next step’.”

Mr Nicholas compared the advent of social media with the invention of cars because both opened up new possibilities but brought new dangers.

“They carry very significant risks and what we’re calling for is to make that device as safe as we can,” he said.

The parents’ number one concern for their children was education and study stress.

“What it shows you is that for many families it’s the everyday, what we would call kitchen-table mental health issues that are causing them the most stress,” Mr Nicholas said.

He said schools and the education system had made changes to relieve pressure on students but that more needed to be done.

ReachOut said its research is nationally representative.