CyberSafeIreland’s latest annual report reveals that a significant proportion of pre-teen children in Ireland are in contact with strangers online.
Over the last academic year, 3,764 children aged 8-12 were surveyed in schools by CyberSafeIreland, the children’s internet safety charity. The survey revealed that 93% own their own smart device and 65% have their own accounts on social media and instant messaging apps. This means that the vast majority of children own a device that connects to the Internet and that many are active online.
The survey further revealed 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 vs. 22% of girls).
30% of children have friends/followers on social media platforms that they don’t know in real life. CyberSafeIreland views this as particularly worrying in the context of the report published by Interpol on 7 September 2000, which highlighted disquieting trends in relation to the production and sharing of child sexual abuse material online.
The CyberSafeIreland 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 set at 16. This is an 8% increase on last year’s findings.
Philip Arneill, Head of Education & Innovation at CyberSafeIreland, 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.”
Alex Cooney, CEO of CyberSafeIreland, 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). Most children responded ‘no’, but 32%, (1,198 children) reported that they had, and 12% were not sure.
The report showed that of those children who had encountered disturbing content online, 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 relation to schools, the report reveals that 60% of teachers 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.
Need for National Campaign
CyberSafeIreland believes a national campaign is needed to raise awareness amongst parents and teachers and to provide them with the information and support necessary to help ensure their children remain safe online.
It also believes that 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.
Go to CyberSafeIreland for helpful resources, tips, and advice.
SOURCE: Materials provided by CyberSafeIreland
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