Digital Habits of Secondary Students

Young people today are experiencing a digital life that we couldn’t have imagined living when we were their age. It’s impossible for adults to truly understand just what it is like to be a teen in 2023, but we all want to do what we can to ensure their experience is positive, safe and balanced.
Here at Cyber Safety Project we have the privilege of working with hundreds of schools each year, making an impact on thousands of students across Australia and the world. When working with secondary learners we aim to conduct a Digital Habits Survey to ensure we can empower the young people we meet to take control and manage their own cyber safety and digital wellbeing,
Insights gained from these surveys provide our team with an in-depth look at the ways young people are accessing and engaging in the online world.
Throughout 2023, Cyber Safety Project conducted a targeted anonymous survey of 5490 secondary school students across 19 schools in Australia and New Zealand. The following report provides a snapshot of how young people in these communities are currently engaging with social networking and gaming platforms. It also provides insights into their experiences when using these tools to connect with their peers and a global community.

What did we find?

It will come as no surprise that a majority of young people acknowledged social media was a distraction for them. In fact, 45% of students surveyed felt the need to constantly check their smartphone or device. During learning time, in social settings and when spending quality time with family, this desire to check connected devices was present. Two-thirds (66%) of students surveyed felt social media was a distraction to their learning, and more than half (57%) felt social media distracted them from their family. Many adults find themselves frequently losing focus on tasks as they give in to the pull of social media apps. After all, these apps are designed to do this. Self-control and pressures such as this can be difficult for the young developing brain, particularly for those who know no life without social media. Many of these teens have been on social media from a very young age, despite these platforms requiring users to be 13 years or older to comply with Australian laws. Concerningly, 75% of social media users had their first account before the age of 13. Of these users, 42% were 10 years or younger and 14% were 8 years or younger when they had their first account. 
Social media can have tremendous benefits and is a wonderful way to stay connected, be inspired and entertained. Unfortunately, these spaces online also contribute to the decline in self esteem of young people. At the Cyber Safety Project, we refer to social media posts/feeds as a person’s ‘highlights reel’. Someone’s highlights, or best features, are considered and curated. It’s a snapshot (often filtered for improvement) of a single moment in time. The constant scroll of ‘highlights’ can have an impact on the self esteem and mental health of users. 46% of respondents felt they compared their lives to others on social media, and 40% said social media has made them feel bad about themselves.
Over-use of technology may affect wellbeing, but accessing social media and social gaming can also put digital users at security and safety risks. How we connect, the type information we share, and who we allow to interact with us online can greatly affect our experiences online. Only 71% of students surveyed had private social media accounts. Of those who regularly played online games, nearly half (47.5%) acknowledged having connected online multiple times with someone they first met online. In a world where it is becoming increasingly more difficult to verify the true identity of others online, these practices increase the likelihood of young people being exposed to people with malintent, including cyber criminals, child groomers, extortion and cyber bullying.
Author: Jaclyn Tasker | Strategic Content Creator, Cyber Safety Project