By Tanya Plibersek

25 May 2024






SUBJECT: Social media restrictions for children.

MONIQUE WRIGHT, HOST: Well, it's an issue rattling Australian families right around the country. Devices and social media completely rewiring childhood. Federal Minister Tanya Plibersek raised concerns this week in a passionate plea revealing children as young as 10 are now accessing violent pornography, calling it “a dangerous place for young minds”. As a parent herself, she wished that perhaps she had restricted her own children's use.


And Tanya joins us now alongside psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg. Welcome to you both, great to see you. Tanya, to you first. I was very moved by what you said during the week. Basically, you were saying, gosh, if we only knew then what we know now, how would you have done things differently with your kids and their social media use?


TANYA PLIBERSEK, MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER: I think this is the real point. It seemed pretty harmless at first and we had restrictions, you know, we'd often go on holidays and make sure we left the devices at home and so on. But I don't think most parents have a clue about how much bullying there is online and how much - including quite violent things that kids are being exposed to from very young. One of the things I'm most concerned about are the relationships between boys and girls. When boys are being exposed to violent and degrading pornography from a very young.

WRIGHT: Age and girls are looking at that too and thinking that that is normal and that is a normal, intimate relationship. Look, there's calls from parents, I put myself in this too. Please, can the government just put an age limit on this or guidelines at the very least?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Yeah. And I think there is absolutely a role for government. We've got an inquiry at the moment looking at social media in the parliament, and of course, we've been trying to deal with some of the extreme content that X and others are showing online. But it can't just be government. We do actually, as a society, need to talk to each other about - if all the parents could get together and say, that's it, it's going to be 14 or it's going to be 16, we could support each other. At the moment, what happens is the parents say something and the kids say, I'm the only one who's not allowed to, I’m going to be lonely, I'm going to be left out. And so, I think that discussion needs to be not just government, but actually us as a society.

WRIGHT: Ok. So, I feel like we are having that discussion there. It feels as if there is enough will there to move it. Will your government move on that?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well, absolutely. We've got a trial at the moment. My colleague Michelle Rowland, the Communications Minister is doing a great job. She’s got a $6.5 million trial of age verification technologies. So, if we do say it's going to be 14 or it's going to be 16, how do we actually enforce that? Because at the moment, some of these apps say, you know, do you have parental consent? Are you over 18? You just tick a box. Yeah, you just tick a box.

WRIGHT: Exactly. Ok, let's bring in Dr Michael Carr-Gregg now, child psychologist. Good to see you, Michael. Ok, so some alarming statistics out this week. Nearly half of all high school students skip school. This is females, mainly due to poor body image, schoolgirls are experiencing anxiety twice the rate of boys, while boys were more likely to be victims of bullying. Ok, how do we rein it back? While we're waiting for government to make a guideline or to make it legislation, how do we, as parents, pull back, particularly if the horse has bolted and we already have our teenagers on social media?


MICHAEL CARR-GREGG: Well, we ran this great social experiment when we introduced mobile phones and social media, and it's been a disaster from a mental health perspective. Unbelievable levels of anxiety, depression, body dysmorphia, eating disorders, deliberate self-harm, not to mention the pornography, which has become Australia's leading sex educator. So, we do need to rein it back. I don't think we can rely on the social media companies. They seem to have the ethics of a cash register. And when it comes to regulation, I am so thrilled that the government is stepping in here. We need to do that. Parents have a role to play. We need to be good role models. We need to use apps and we need to make sure that restrict young people's access to social media, both on the phone and on the computer itself.

WRIGHT: Okay. We put the call out to ask people, to ask our viewers to send in their questions about their children and social media. The top issues parents struggle with is saying no to things, but finding out that their kids would find a way to do it anyway. What's your advice around navigating that?

CARR-GREGG: I call ‘no’ vitamin N, and there's a widespread deficiency of that. You're the parent, you've got the frontal cortex, which is fully developed. You just have to say no and stick to it. It's great if you can negotiate beforehand, see if you can have a discussion, but ultimately, you're responsible for the health and wellbeing of your child.

WRIGHT: Ok, Michael, we heard Tanya say earlier that one thing that we hear a lot is “everybody else is on it except for me”. Can you give some words to parents to be successful there?

CARR-GREGG: Well, the truth is everybody is on it. When your child goes to high school, it's almost you're in a no-win situation, because we know that the greatest predictor of wellbeing for your children is having a rich repertoire of friends. If the only way they meet up is by arranging on social media, you're probably stuck with social media, but only at high school. Then we have to make sure that the kids learn to use the social media in a safe, smart and responsible way. Go to the eSafety Commissioner website, have a look and see what Julie Inman Grant has taught parents about this. This, to me, is the answer.


WRIGHT: Yeah. Ok. Tanya, as a parent, do you have any questions for Doctor Michael Carr-Gregg?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: I've got so many questions. I think the first one that parents are really interested in is what is the right age for kids to be allowed social media, and what sort of rules do you think are healthy around it?

CARR-GREGG: Look, unfortunately, age doesn't define maturity, as you would well know. You've got children, but the law requires an age. The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act in the states says 13. I think there are a whole lot of reasons why that. I'm happy with 13. I think at that age you've got the capacity to teach the children how to use the technology in a safe way.

WRIGHT: Ok. Lots of people talking about 16 as well. This is a discussion that's going to keep on going around, and so it should. Dr Michael Carr-Gregg and Tanya Plibersek, thank you both so much.