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Teens with disability more vulnerable to unwanted digital communications

A recent study published by Netsafe found that young disabled adults were more likely to experience adverse effects on their everyday activities, as a result of unwanted digital activities than those without impairments.

The New Zealand study was carried out by online survey of 1,001 teens aged 14 to 17, and made comparisons between different ethnic groups, age groups, girls and boys, and with those who self-identify as having a long-term disability. The full paper including detailed methodology and results can be found at .

What is unwanted digital activity

Unwanted digital communications are defined to include a range of online experience(s) mediated/facilitated by unsolicited electronic communication(s) that might or might not cause distress and/or harm to the person who deals with it (e.g. receiving spam, accidentally seeing inappropriate content, having rumours spread about oneself, being threatened online).

New Zealand teens

Overall, 7 in 10 teens in New Zealand have experienced at least one type of unwanted digital communication in the past year. Not all of these resulted in harm or distress.

The two most common types of unwanted digital communications identified were being contacted by a stranger and accidentally seeing inappropriate content online. Teens report they most commonly encounter unwanted digital communications through social media. This was more prevalent for girls than boys, who were more likely to experience an online incident through online gaming.

Teens experiences of unwanted digital communications are most commonly instigate by a friend (24%), closely followed by someone they do not know (23%). In just over a quarter of cases (27%), an unwanted digital communication was related to a wider issue happening offline. This was higher for girls than boys. Compared to other ethnic groups, Māori and Pacific teens were more likely to report receiving unwanted digital communications across a range of different types.

The key take-outs of the general survey findings are that:

  • Nearly 2 in 10 (19%) of New Zealand teens experienced an unwanted digital communication that had a negative impact on their daily activities.
  • The most common consequences they reported were being unable to participate online as they used to, and to go to school or study.
  • The impact of unwanted digital communications on performing daily activities was more likely to affect younger teens.  
  • 4 out of 5 New Zealand teens who reported experiencing an unwanted digital communication said they had an emotional response to it. The most common reactions were feeling annoyed, frustrated, and confused. However, some found online incidents funny or did not care. Teens with a disability.

Teens with Disabilities

The key finding in relation to young disabled adults was that:

  • Teens with a disability were significantly more likely than non-disabled teens to be unable to go to school or study.

In conclusion, unwanted digital activity is a topic of public and media interest, and should be a consideration for policy makers and practitioners working in the youth and disability sectors.

Read more findings from Netsafe’s study - Teens with disability more likely to be subjected to sexting

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