The internet and social media can have a very positive impact on young people’s lives. For many young people it reduces isolation, increases connection, is an outlet for creativity, and can have a positive impact on mental health and wellbeing. On the flip side however, learning to navigate the online world can be challenging and it’s important that young people have the information, education and support they need to navigate the internet safely and independently, and care for their mental health and wellbeing at the same time.

The Australian ReachOut organisation was established in 1997 by Jack Heath to harness the potential of the internet and provide the world’s first online mental health service for young people.

ReachOut believes that all young people deserve to feel safe online which is why they provide young people, parents and carers, and schools with the tools and information needed to navigate social media platforms in ways that promote safety, connection and wellbeing.

In Australia, teens spend 14.4 hours online each week and studies have found that 9 in 10 teens engage in at least one type of positive online behaviour such as posting positive comments, being inclusive and supporting friends.

Conversely however, social media can be harmful to young people’s mental health and wellbeing with negative behaviours or experiences online including bullying, exposure to body image and self-harm content, unwanted contact from strangers, receiving inappropriate material, reputational damage and others.

In 2020, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found that 44 per cent of young people aged 12–17 had at least one negative online experience in the last 6 months. In addition to this, when asked about their experiences online, 90 per cent of young people reported being a victim of bad behaviour online at some point, with nearly 60 per cent reporting emotional or psychological impacts associated with encountering risks online.

If you are a parent and you want to learn how you can keep you child safe from online harm, please visit ReachOut for hints, tips, and tools: https://parents.au.reachout.com/

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