Word on the Street with Helen Connolly: Teenagers and the Internet

How do we help our teens navigate the online world? What can we do if our children encounter inappropriate material online? Helen Connolly, Commissioner for Children & Young People, shares insight about teenagers and the internet.

with Helen Connolly
Commissioner for Children & Young People

Helen Connolly, Commissioner for Children & Young People

In conversations with 12 year olds all over South Australia, one of the big things they like telling me about is how turning 13 means they can legitimately sign on to a bunch of social media sites in their own right.

Although plenty of 12 year olds already access sites using friends, siblings, or parent log-ins and devices, this changes for many as they turn 13. For parents this can be equivalent to letting them loose to cross a four lane highway without ever having any road safety awareness or skills. Pretty dangerous all round.

Work with tweens to develop the safety awareness

Much better is when we work with our tweens to develop the safety awareness skills they need to be on platforms and sites safely. Ideally this should happen in plenty of time before they independently access their own account, because we know from Australian research that nearly half of children aged 9 -16 encounter inappropriate material online every month.

teenager iphone

What can we do if our children encounter inappropriate material online?

So what can we do to support our teenager if this happens? Who can they tell and how can they get out of it? Why do inappropriate things appear on the social feeds in the first place? Although it is likely that teenagers understand algorithms better than us, it is helpful to talk to them about the link between their viewing habits and pop-ups, including what they can do to reduce the unpleasantness of explicit and distressing material they receive.

How to suss out creepy adults pretending to be a kid

They also need to be ‘schooled’ in how to respond to random requests coming from people online. This includes explaining the differences between contact that they have requested and contact that arrives unsolicited. This is a really important piece of information for teenagers, and brainstorming together how to suss out creepy adults pretending to be a kid is crucial, including how to block this contact altogether.

Strategies will help keep teens safe

Having strategies ahead of time will help keep teenagers safe, including adjusting privacy settings and permissions to ensure they’re not giving away too much information about themselves to unknowns. In these conversations it’s important to explain just how good some creepy people are at finding out information about them, including how they can actually outsmart them by being ready. Tagging in photos, public settings and photos that show what school they go to and where they live is like walking out in front of traffic without looking both ways. If we support them to think about this we can keep them safer.

Think about your own online content

It is also important that parents who may have been posting photos of their children on the internet for years, think about who outside your trusted circle may know about your child and where they live and go to school. Modelling safety is part of your job as a parent.
Modelling good conduct online is also important. We know our teenagers see the online world as an extension of the offline world, and so conversations about ensuring they don’t do things online that they wouldn’t do in real life is another important part of ensuring their conduct is respectful. They also need to know how best to respond when others are behaving badly.

If we do all this before they turn 13, teenagers will have a much better chance of accessing the positives of being online while they manage the risks that also come with being out there.

If you’re a child or young person, parent or grandparent who would like to get in touch with me, send an email to:


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Helen Connolly

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