Third of pre-teens game online with strangers
Almost a two-thirds of pre-teen children in Ireland are in contact with strangers online, according to figures released in CyberSafeIreland’s latest annual report.
The survey by the children’s Internet safety charity found that 31% of children game with people they don’t know in real life and 61% of children reported being contacted by a stranger in a game (40% of boys v 22% of girls). Almost a third (30%) of children have friends/followers on social media platforms that they don’t know in real life. This is particularly worrying in the context of the report published by Interpol on which highlighted concerning trends in relation to the production and sharing of child sexual abuse material online.
The survey also found that 65% of children are signed up to social media and messaging platforms despite minimum age restrictions of at least 13 on all of the most popular platforms and a Digital Age of Consent in Ireland being set at 16. This is an 8% increase on last year’s findings.
CyberSafeIreland surveyed 3,764 children aged between 8 and 12 in schools over the last academic year and found that 93% owned their own smart device and 65% have their own accounts on social media and instant messaging apps.
CyberSafeIreland’s head of education & innovation, Philip Arneill said: “We know that asking children to never chat to people they don’t know in the context of an online game can be a challenging message to get across, since many see it as part of the game and entirely normal. Whilst we would always encourage kids to never engage online with people they don’t know offline, the key message needs to be about never sharing personal information with strangers online and to talk to a trusted adult if anything or anyone they encounter online makes them feel scared or uncomfortable. We must also put more pressure on the online platforms to promote a safer user culture, by adopting a ‘safety by design’ approach.”
CyberSafeIreland CEO, Alex Cooney, said: “Restrictions imposed as a result of Covid-19 have meant that most of us have become even more heavily dependent on our devices. During lockdown, we have relied on them for work, education and entertainment and this also goes for children. Whilst the benefits of technology have become ever more apparent, we must remain mindful of the risks that all users, but particularly children, encounter online and we must do what we can to mitigate against them. The onus is on all of us to ensure children are better prepared for their online lives. We need education, we need public awareness campaigns and we need proper regulation of the online service providers.”
The survey also asked children if they ever came across content online that bothered them (defined as something that made them upset, scared or something they wished they hadn’t seen) and whilst most responded ‘no’, almost a third (32%, which equates to 1,198 children overall) reported that they had and 12% weren’t sure.
The report highlighted that of those children that had encountered disturbing content online, most children (57%) had reported it to a parent or trusted adult but 20% of children reported that they had kept it to themselves, which is a worrying trend.
In terms of its impact on schools, the report found that most teachers (60%) are dealing with online safety incidents like cyberbullying in their classrooms and that 80% of teachers think online safety is a significant issue in their school.
CYberSafeIreland has argued in favour of a national campaign is needed to raise awareness amongst parents and teachers, and to provide them with the information and support they need to help ensure their children remain safe online. It has also advocated for legislation to enact robust regulation of the online service providers must be brought forward without delay, including scope for an individual complaints mechanism so that members of the public have somewhere they can take concerns and that harmful content can be removed quickly and efficiently.
For more information on CyberSafeIreland, visit cybersafeireland.org.