Understanding young people’s online challenges

Young people find the internet an easier place to explore their identity, to challenge adult norms and boundaries, experiment with relationships and practice a range of behaviours. But many of the consequences and implications of these things are amplified online. Netsafe’s research has identified that nearly 19% of New Zealand teens have experienced an unwanted…

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Young people find the internet an easier place to explore their identity, to challenge adult norms and boundaries, experiment with relationships and practice a range of behaviours. But many of the consequences and implications of these things are amplified online.

Netsafe’s research has identified that nearly 19% of New Zealand teens have experienced an unwanted digital communication that had a negative impact on their daily activities. The same research identified that most teens response to an unwanted contact was to block the person, ignore the situation or report the problem to an adult.

While the challenges young people face varies depending on their age and what they do online, some of the key challenges every parent should know about are detailed below.

Online bullying

According to Netsafe research, one in five young people in New Zealand is the recipient of online bullying every year. It happens when someone or a group of people does something online that causes another person distress, fear or other negative emotions. They are doing it on purpose with the intent to hurt the recipient and it’s not just a one-off thing.

The Harmful Digital Communications Act was created to help people in New Zealand of all ages who are being targeted online by others. Some types of bullying are covered by this law. The law also covers other things like encouraging people to take their own life (this is illegal in New Zealand) and sharing nude or nearly nude images without the consent of the person in it.

How to help
Teach your child what to do if they encounter online bullying so they have the tools to deal with it. Explain that often it doesn’t go away, but can escalate online and possibly involve others.

Talk to your child about how you expect them to behave towards others online. This includes:

  • Letting them know that if it’s not acceptable offline, it’s not acceptable online
  • Asking your child to think about how the recipient of the online bullying would feel
  • Reminding them that they can come to you, whānau, a trusted adult, their school or Netsafe
  • Explaining there’s a law about how to communicate online. It provides rights for people, but also responsibilities about the ways to communicate with others

The other important thing to do if your child has been bullied online is to take screenshots or URLs of the content and report it to the platform that it’s on (e.g. the social media or gaming platform). More help is available at our online bullying page.

Unwanted contact

As your child becomes more independent online, they can connect and communicate with people they don’t know. Often this is a positive experience, but sometimes your child could be being groomed or talking to someone who isn’t who they say they are.

Online grooming is when a person tries to create a sexually abusive situation using digital technology. Some people will pretend to be a young person and use a fake profile (similar to catfishing), while others might use their actual profile if they aren’t old themselves. They might pretend to have an interest in common, or to have a friend in common by looking at the young persons’ friend list on social media.

If they aren’t already talking to the young person using direct messaging or text, they’ll try to move the conversation somewhere where others can’t see. The groomer will try to get close with the young person and may spend a long time doing this before trying to do anything sexual. Often, they use techniques and language that is positive and encourages a child to disclose personal information or their interests to try to build trust in their relationship.

How to help
It is important that your child knows that they can talk to you when something goes wrong online – no matter what happened or who caused it. Depending on the age of your child you might want to think about turning off the chat functions on the game they play to reduce the potential for harm.

Explain to your child:

  • How easy it is for someone to pretend to be someone else online
  • Reasons why people pretend to be someone else online
  • Ways to safely manage online friends
  • What to do if someone they don’t know want to chat or become a friend
  • How to work out if the person is who they say they are
  • What to do if things start to become uncomfortable when talking to an online friend

If you suspect your child is being groomed online, contact the Police and try to capture all of the evidence.

Social media

The minimum sign up age for Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and YouTube is 13. This is because a child’s social and emotional capability is still developing which can make it more difficult to identify and manage challenges that occur on a platform designed for adults and teens.

If your child is under 13 and keen to use social media, consider their capability to manage potential online challenges before setting up a profile. It is better your child is honest with you as you can help them to stay safe online.

How to help
Make sure you’ve taught your child the online safety basics before they start using social media. You can help them when it comes to social networking by:

  • Setting up the account together
  • Using your email instead of your child’s (depending on their age)
  • Entering their actual birthday so they’re less likely to see inappropriate content
  • Becoming their friend or following them
  • Visiting the safety centres of the social media sites
  • Talking regularly about the need for privacy settings, how to handle social conflict online and what to do when they are concerned

More help is available at:


Sexting describes sending or receiving nude content. It can include naked pictures, underwear shots and sexual text messages, pictures and videos. There are many reasons why young people get involved in sexting including exploring sex and relationships or pressure from a partner or friends.

Research in New Zealand suggests that the rates of young people sharing nude images of themselves are relatively low (just 4% of young people aged between 14-17 surveyed had done so). What is more common and can create pressure by thinking everybody is doing it, is that one in five young people having been asked to send a nude image.

How to help
Having an open conversation about it can help your young person understand the implications of sending a nude image. Talk to them about the risks of sharing personal information and sexual images and what can happen to those photos or videos once created and shared.

Read our advice for parents about young people sending nudes and how to talk to your child about pornograhy.

Inappropriate content

Sometimes young people can see inappropriate, offensive or illegal content online even if they haven’t sought it out. It can pop-up during a game, someone could send them a link, a simple video search can show explicit images, or a misspelt word could return unexpected content.

Offensive or illegal content may include topics, images or other information that could be prohibited in New Zealand. The content can also be upsetting to a young person when they discover it.

How to help
Some of the things your child may see online can be distressing. It’s important you build their resiliency when they start to go online and continue to have regular conversations about what they are seeing and doing. Some of the other things you can do is:

  • Monitor what your child is doing online
  • Use parental control tools to filter the content your child can assess
  • Respond calmly if your child has seen inappropriate content and has come to you for help
  • Explain the approach you plan to take if this happens and try not to take away their devices or remove access if they do come across this type of content


If you’re concerned about the immediate safety of you or someone else, please call 111. If you want help or expert incident advice, you can contact us. Our service is free, non-judgemental and available seven days a week.


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