Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2021) Bullying and negative online experiences., AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 08 December 2021
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2021). Bullying and negative online experiences. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/negative-online-experiences
Bullying and negative online experiences. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 25 June 2021, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/negative-online-experiences
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Bullying and negative online experiences [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2021 [cited 2021 Dec. 8]. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/negative-online-experiences
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2021, Bullying and negative online experiences, viewed 8 December 2021, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/negative-online-experiences
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Where do young people experience bullying?
What helped young people to deal with bullying?
Are some young people bullied more than others?
Cyberbullying and negative online experiences
How many young people have experience with sexting?
What actions did young people take in response to unwanted (nearly) nude images or videos?
How do young people feel about sexting?
What are young people’s general attitudes towards sexting?
Are negative online experiences and sexting the same for everyone?
How does Australia compare internationally on bullying?
Bullying is the repeated and intentional use of words or actions against someone or a group of people to cause distress and risk to their wellbeing. It usually occurs when the perpetrator has more influence or power over someone else or wants to make someone else feel less powerful or helpless (AHRC 2012).
Bullying comes in various forms:
Bullying can be overt or covert and can happen face to face or online (cyberbullying) (Australian Education Authorities 2020).
Cyberbullying has been defined as ‘the use of technology to bully a person or group with the intent to hurt them socially, psychologically or even physically’ (eSafety Commissioner 2018b). Cyberbullying shares many features of traditional bullying but has some key differences. It can:
The digital environment has also given rise to sexting: the sending, receiving, requesting or being asked for mostly, but not always, self-generated nude or nearly nude images or video through digital tools and/or platforms (SWGFL/UK Safer Internet Centre et al. 2017). Sexting is a complex issue, as it can be consensual or non-consensual. Reasons for sexting vary and include flirting, relationship building, or sexual self-exploitation, as well as coercion or extortion, intimidation and other abuse (SWGFL/UK Safer Internet Centre et al. 2017). The online sharing of intimate or sexual photos or videos without consent is image‑based abuse (eSafety Commissioner 2017).
Bullying can cause physical or psychological harm (Australian Education Authorities 2020). It can also have a wide range of negative long-term outcomes on both victims and perpetrators, which can be severe and persist into adulthood (United Nations Children’s Fund 2014). Research has found a relationship between bullying and depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, low life satisfaction, greater risk of eating disorders, social and relationship difficulties and academic difficulties (United Nations Children’s Fund 2014).
Bullying as a public health concern has been recognised through its inclusion as a risk factor in the Global Burden of Disease 2017, and in the forthcoming Australian Burden of Disease study, due for release in 2021. Results from the Global Burden of Disease 2017 study showed that, for Australian young people aged 10–24, 12% of the total disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) for anxiety disorders, and 9.7% of total DALYs for depressive disorders were attributable to bullying victimisation (Stanaway et al. 2018 in Jadambaa et al. 2019). (For information on DALYs see Technical notes).
High rates of bullying across late childhood and early adolescence have been found for both boys and girls, but with greater persistence among girls. This may be a contributing factor to emerging sex difference in depression and anxiety across early adolescence (Fujikawa et al. 2021).
Survey findings have also shown a strong relationship between experiencing bullying or experiencing negative online behaviours and being a perpetrator (Lawrence et al. 2015; eSafety Commissioner 2018a).
National data on bullying are available from a number of sources. However, differences in reference periods, age groups and definitions of bullying mean that they are not comparable. Experiences across a range of settings are currently limited and data are not available about bullying in the workplace.
In 2019–20 the Department of Education, Skills and Employment commissioned the Telethon Kids Institute (led by Professor Donna Cross) to undertake a literature review and develop a project plan as a first step to determining requirements for an updated Bullying Prevalence Study. The study would be a successor to the 2009 Covert Bullying Prevalence Study. Progression to stage two of this project is still under consideration.
Data on bullying for this section are sourced from the annual Mission Australia Youth Survey, the second Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing (also known as, and hereafter referred to as the Young Minds Matter survey), and the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).
Mission Australia Youth Survey
The Mission Australia Youth Survey, is an opt-in survey that has been conducted annually since 2002. It asks young people aged 15–19 what concerns them; what they value; and their views of work, study and the future. In 2019, 25,100 young people took part, the majority doing so online (93%) and the rest (7.0%) on paper.
Young people were engaged via schools, community organisations, through Mission Australia services and at youth events.
In 2019, the survey included the question: ‘Have you experienced bullying in the past 12 months’? Respondents could select 1 or more from the following options:
These data do not differentiate between repeated and one-off bullying.
Young Minds Matter survey
The Young Minds Matter survey is a household survey of young people aged 4 to 17 conducted in 2013–14 by the Telethon Kids Institute at the University of Western Australia, in partnership with Roy Morgan Research. The survey collected data from randomly sampled families across Australia except in Very remote areas. A total of 6,310 parents and carers, and 2,967 young people aged 11–17 responded.
The survey was designed to provide information about the mental health and wellbeing of Australian children and adolescents, and their use of health and educational services to obtain help. Data were collected on bullying that occurred during the 12 months before the survey and included frequency of bullying. Reported data differentiate between bullying that occurred over 12 months before the survey, every few months or less often, and every few weeks or more often (Lawrence et al. 2015).
Programme for International Student Assessment
Data on international comparisons of bullying are sourced from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). PISA is a triennial survey of 15 year old students around the world.
It focuses on the core school subjects of science, reading and mathematics. Additional questionnaires are provided to students to gather contextual information, such as on their socioeconomic background and their attitudes towards school (such as sense of belonging).
PISA measures 3 types of bullying: physical, relational (also known as social) and verbal. Statements that students were asked to respond to include:
These statements are combined into a single indicator, ‘any type of bullying act’.
Reported data differentiate between bullying that occurred over 12 months before PISA testing, based on the following categories: Never or almost never, A few times a year, A few times a month, Once a week or more.
Digital lives of Aussie teens
Data on negative online behaviours are sourced from the eSafety Commissioner’s report Digital lives of Aussie teens. The data are based on an omnibus survey undertaken by Omnipoll, using the non-probability-based Lightspeed consumer panel. Survey data were collected between 17 and 28 September 2020, with 627 in‑scope teenagers responding via mobile phone.
Negative online behaviours are defined as:
Youth Digital Participation Survey 2017
Data on sexting are from the eSafety Commissioner’s Youth Digital Participation Survey 2017. The survey comprised a random sample of more than 3,000 young Australians aged 8–17; these young people were asked about their experiences and behaviours related to safety online in the 12 months to June 2017.
Data in this section are sourced from the report Young people and sexting: attitudes and behaviours, supplemented with unpublished data.
Sexting behaviours reported in the survey relate to the transmission of (nearly) nude images or videos such as:
The Mission Australia Youth Survey 2019 included, for the first time, a question on whether survey respondents have experienced bullying in the past 12 months (see Box 1). In 2019, among survey respondents aged 15–19:
The survey collected data on 4 main types of bullying: verbal, social, cyber and physical (see Box 1).
Note that respondents could choose multiple forms of bullying in the survey questionnaire.
Source: Carlisle et al. 2019a.
Based on the Young Minds Matter survey, in 2013–14, among young people aged 16–17, more than 1 in 4 (28%) had been bullied in the previous 12 months:
Differences between the methodologies and age ranges in scope of the Young Minds Matter survey and the Mission Australia Youth Survey are likely to account for differences in rates of bullying (see Box 1).
Based on the Mission Australia Youth Survey, of those who had experienced bullying in the 12 months before the survey:
Young people used a range of methods to deal with bullying:
For 13% of young people, nothing helped to deal with the bullying.
A higher proportion of females than males reported that talking to close friends or family helped (42% and 24%).
A higher proportion of males reported that confronting the bully/ies helped them to deal with bullying (24% compared with 18% of females).
Based on data from the Mission Australia Youth Survey, in 2019, among young people aged 15–19 who experienced bullying in the previous 12 months, the proportion was:
Source: Carlisle et al. 2019a, 2019b, Hall et al. 2020.
Based on self-reported data from the Young Minds Matter survey, in 2013–14, the proportion of young people aged 16–17 with a major depressive disorder who were bullied:
The proportion of those young people who felt either ‘a lot’ or ‘extremely’ upset as a result of bullying in the previous 12 months was 5 times as high for those with major depressive disorders (31%) as for those with no disorder (6.2%). However, it is not possible to determine if the depression was caused by or contributed to the bullying (Lawrence et al. 2015).
Based on the eSafety Commissioner’s report The digital lives of Aussie teens (see Box 1 for survey methodology), in the 6 months prior to September 2020 among young people aged 12–17:
The top 3 negative experiences for young people aged 12–17 were:
Girls were more likely than boys to be contacted by a stranger or someone they did not know (35% and 26%). Boys were slightly more likely than girls to receive online threats or abuse (18% compared with 11%) (eSafety Commissioner 2021).
In 2020, more than 80% of young people took some form of action after a negative online experience. While a full comparison cannot be made with data from the 2017 Youth Digital Participation Survey, some comparisons are possible.
Among young people aged 12–17:
As multiple formal networks could be reported, individual proportions do not sum to the total formally reporting their experiences.
The data indicate a possible shift between 2017 and 2020 in how young people deal with negative online experiences—from informal approaches, such as talking to family and friends to more self-help (for example, blocking, unfriending) and formal reporting (eSafety Commissioner 2021).
Young people are also acting to build a safer and more inclusive online environment, with most (89%) reporting that they have done at least 1 positive thing online:
The e-Safety Commissioner’s 2017 Youth Digital Participation Survey collected data on a range of sexting behaviours (see Box 1).
Among young people aged 14–17 in the 12 months to June 2017:
Overall, sexting behaviour was more common among females (35%) than males (22%) (SWGFL/UK Safer Internet Centre et al.2017). In relation to specific sexting behaviours, being asked for a (nearly) nude image or video of themselves, receiving an unsolicited (nearly) nude image or video or sending a (nearly) nude image or video of themselves were more common among females than males (Figure 3).
Source: eSafety Commissioner, unpublished data.
Among young people aged 14–17 who received requests for a (nearly) nude image or video of themselves:
Nearly three-quarters of young people who received unwanted nude or nearly nude images or videos took at least 1 action:
Close to 1 in 4 (23%) took no action. It was more common for males to take no action than females (33% and 16%) (eSafety Commissioner, unpublished data).
In 2017, negative online experiences and sexting behaviour varied depending on disability status and, to some degree, birthplace. Among 13–17 year olds:
Source: eSafety Commissioner, 2018a, unpublished data.
Based on data from the PISA 2018, the proportion of Australian students aged 15 who were bullied (any act of bullying) at least a few times a month was higher than the OECD average (30% compared with 23%) (Figure 5).
Source: OECD 2019.
For information on topics related to young people and relationships, see:
For more information on Indigenous young people and being treated unfairly, see:
For information on children and bullying, see:
For more information on youth and bullying, see:
For more information on youth mental health and bullying, see:
For more information on negative online behaviours and sexting, see:
AHRC (Australian Human Rights Commission) 2012. What is bullying?: violence, harassment and bullying fact sheet. Viewed 3 September 2020
AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2020. Burden of disease. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 29 April 2021.
Australian Education Authorities 2020. Types of bullying Viewed 19 March 2021.
Carlisle E, Fildes J, Hall S, Perrens B, Perdriau A & Plummer J 2019a. Youth Survey Report 2019. Sydney: Mission Australia.
Carlisle E, Fildes J, Hall S, Perrens B, Perdriau A & Plummer J 2019b. Youth Survey Report 2019: from city to country: comparing major cities and regional areas Sydney: Mission Australia.
eSafety Commissioner 2017. Image-based abuse national survey summary report. Canberra: Australian Government.
eSafety Commissioner 2018a. State of play—youth, kids and digital dangers. Canberra: Australian Government.
eSafety Commissioner 2018b. What does cyberbullying look like? Viewed 3 September 2020.
eSafety Commissioner 2021. The digital lives of Aussie teens. Viewed 26 March 2021.
Fujikawa S, Mundy S, Canterford L, Moreno-Bentancur M, Patton G 2021. Bullying across late childhood and early adolescence: a prospective cohort of students assessed annually from Grades 3 to 8. Academic Pediatrics 2021 March, 21(2): 344–351.
Hall S, Fildes J, Liyanarachchi D, Plummer J & Reynolds M 2020b. Young, willing and able—Youth Survey Disability Report 2019. Sydney: Mission Australia.
Jadambaa A, Thomas HJ, Scott JG, Graves N, Brain D & Pacella R 2019. The contribution of bullying victimisation to the burden of anxiety and depressive disorders in Australia. Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences 1–23.
Lawrence D, Johnson S, Hafekost J, Boterhoven de Haan K, Sawyer M, Ainley J et al. 2015. The mental health of children and adolescents. Report on the second Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing. Department of Health, Canberra. Viewed 15 July 2019.
OECD 2019. PISA 2018 Results (Volume III): What school life means for students’ lives. Paris: OECD Publishing, Paris.
SWGFL/UK Safer Internet Centre, University of Plymouth, Netsafe, Office of the eSafety Commissioner 2017. Young people and sexting: attitudes and behaviours. Plymouth, UK: University of Plymouth, Netsafe, Office of the eSafety Commissioner.
United Nations Children’s Fund 2014, Hidden in plain sight: a statistical analysis of violence against children. New York: UNICEF.
For general technical notes relating to this report, see also Methods.
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