The new commandments for online

When I was a kid my parents constantly reminded me of basic life skills. Look both ways before you cross the road; don’t talk to strangers; slip, slop, slap;  if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all; don’t watch too much TV, it rots the brain…

At first I’m sure these parenting slogans were simply repeated as the need arose but over time I recall demonstrations - dramatic head turning before crossing the street, Dad covering his face with bright orange zinc, role modelling which clarified the rules applied to parent and child alike.

"The ease and rate of young people accessing adult material is growing rapidly, exposing them to harmful behaviour and stereotypes.”

Some rules grew in importance as the world changed: more was understood about UV rays and roads became busier – but the underlying principle didn’t change from one generation to the next.

Now it’s time for a new set of rules.

New era

Parents of today are the first to guide and nurture through the digital age. It’s an era where kids spend more time online than watching TV, according to the ABC – nearly double the time they spent in 2008.

That’s despite official guidelines which state children up to the age of 17 should spend no more than two hours per day using electronic media.

It’s one where the number of serious complaints of cyber bullying to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner grew by 63 per cent in 2016-17 – including over 300 serious cases of cyberbullying targeting Australian children. 

It’s one in which the ease and rate of young people accessing adult material is growing rapidly, exposing them to harmful behaviour and stereotypes.

It’s one where one in 10 kids said they saw something nasty online in the past year. 

The resulting damage flows through our society, from our schools to our communities and businesses.


Parents of today need a new rule book, a new set of life skills - ones which will prove just as critical as safely crossing the road.

There is no time for excuses and not understanding technology is not an option, even if it is undeniably daunting.

A good place to start is by being a good role model. A 2016 study in the US found 43 per cent of parents are concerned their kids spend too much time on the internet.

Of those parents, 78 per cent saw themselves as good examples for online behaviours – despite spending an average of 9 hours and 22 minutes staring at screens a day.

So it seems we could all benefit from some new ground rules. Here’s an attempt at an upgrade – from one generation to the next.

The new commandments

  • “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” upgrades to “if you wouldn’t say it face to face, don’t say it online”.
  • “Don’t talk to strangers” upgrades to if you haven’t met them in real life (in person!) don’t talk to them online.”
  • “Don’t watch too much TV, it will rot your brains” upgrades to “disconnect, have some time offline every week for your mental health.”
  • And a favourite of mine - that I haven’t quite found version 1.0 of - but I’ll share anyway: “Always ask before you share a picture of someone online (even your own kids!)”.  

Of course, a better, more respectful internet won’t be achieved by a series of phrases alone. We all need to role model it – in every interaction.

Safer Internet Day is a timely reminder of all the resources and tools that exist. By learning together, role modelling respect, security and safety online we can all contribute to a better internet.

Erica Hardinge is a bluenotes contributor

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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