A quarter of New Zealand children were upset by an online experience in the last year while 36 per cent were exposed to violent or gory images and a fifth to self-harm methods, a survey has found.
Netsafe's third Global Kids Online report, released today examined children's experiences on the internet and parents' perceptions of what they were exposed to.
The survey of more than 2000 children aged 9-17 and their parents found a mismatch between children's upsetting experiences online and their parents' awareness of it.
Overall, 25 per cent of kids said they had been bothered by an online experience in the last year while only 19 per cent of parents knew about it. While the gap was significant, study authors Dr Edgar Pacheco and Neil Melhuish said it was consistent with international research.
Netsafe chief executive Martin Cocker said the gap was "not shockingly wide".
"We're only talking about a relatively small group of parents who are not aware. People will be mostly reassured that gap is not as big as they thought."
Cocker said the real challenge lay in finding those families where a gap existed and seeing how they could support them.
The survey also found parents and caregivers of 13-17-year-olds significantly underestimated their child's exposure to harmful online content such as violent images, hate speech, self-harm and drug taking.
It found 36 per cent of children in that age group had seen gory or violent images online, 26 per cent had been exposed to drug taking and 20 per cent had seen ways to physically hurt themselves.
Parents' awareness of their children's exposure to the same thing was between 12 and 15 per cent lower in each category.
When it came to ways of committing suicide, 17 per cent of children reported being exposed to it while 15 per cent said they had come across ways to be very thin. Parents' awareness was 9 per cent lower for both.
Cocker said it was understandable parents were less aware of the more harmful content their children had come across.
"I think the more serious the harm, the more significant it is for a young person to share that with anybody. The reality is that it's those serious incidents that, as a parent, we are trying to prepare for."
Also concerning to Cocker was that 4 per cent of parents were unaware their child had met someone face-to-face that they had first met online.
While the vast majority of people you met online were going to be "perfectly reasonable", Coker said parents should always be nearby in such a situation as "somewhere amongst all those is someone who is going to hurt a child".
As for the number of children who had reported upsetting or harmful experiences, Cocker said he would have expected it to be higher.
"Harmful content goes viral just like positive content - in fact sometimes faster than positive content."
Cocker said parents were trusted sources of support and the pre-teenage bracket was an important intervention period to teach children online safety skills.
That was good news, he said, because nearly half of parents surveyed believed they had the skills to help their child deal with risks and harm online.
For those parents concerned about how to keep their kids safe, Cocker said the recipe was not that complicated.
"It's learning about your children's lives, understanding the risks and having a deliberate conversation with them about the risks."
But he acknowledged that in reality it could be quite difficult to get children to open up and because of that Netsafe had developed an online parent safety tool kit to provide advice and support.
Mum's big wake-up call
Krista Lange knows all too well the dangers of the internet but open communication with her two daughters has helped her deal with issues quickly.
The Auckland woman first realised how dangerous it could be about five years ago when her daughter, then age 9, started getting rude and suggestive messages from a 10-year-old boy she had been talking to online while playing a game - it turned out he was much older than 10.
Lange noticed her daughter was becoming more secretive and found out what was happening when she asked her.
"It was a big wake-up call for me," she said. "That was so awful. I felt like I completely failed her.
"People are not who they say they are. They can hide behind a screen. You protect your children but these things can happen in your own home - you're letting outside people in."
Since then she has put rules in place around internet use for her daughters who are 13 and 11.
Lange turns off the Wi-Fi at certain times, has parental filters set up to block some content, they are not allowed to talk to strangers online and the girls are only allowed to be on their devices in shared spaces.
But, most important was being open with your children and talking to them, she said.
More recently her daughter had been shown footage of the Christchurch mosque shooting and a Tik Tok video that appeared to show a man committing suicide.
In both of those instances she had told her parents and they were able to discuss it as a family and make sure they were handling it okay.
"You have to teach them about how to deal with it. It's also about having open lines of communication," she said. "It's just letting them know that you're there for them and you'll always have their back."