28% of kids engage with strangers online

Up to 28% of children, aged eight to 13, have had occasional or daily contact with a stranger on social media, messaging and gaming platforms, an Irish cybersafety charity has warned, writes Claire O'Sullivan.

Since it launched over a year ago, CyberSafeIreland has spoken to more than 4,000 children aged eight to 13. It found that while many connections are harmless, there are “cases of significant concern”, particularly for the 5% of children who are in contact with a stranger on a daily basis.

On Safer Internet Day, cyber crime expert and co-founder of CyberSafeIreland, Cliona Curley says parents are overwhelmed by the challenge of keeping their kids safe online.

“One of our key objectives is to demystify internet safety for parents and to help move them beyond feeling overwhelmed to a place where they feel empowered to take simple steps to address online safety at home. It is absolutely critical that parents become more engaged in their children’s online lives,” said Cliona.

Research from Switcher.ie shows four in five parents are seriously worried their children’s internet usage will harm them, yet nearly 60% of parents have not enabled parental controls on household technology.

One in five parents are worried that their children’s use of technology will damage their social skills, while three in 10 parents fear their child’s internet usage will impact their mental health.

One in four parents fully trust their children to be sensible online, says the research by the price comparison and switching service.

Up to 44% of the 1,000 parents who spoke to the survey team say they have spoken to their children about the dangers of the internet and 24% only allow them to use the internet when they are at home with them.

Switcher.ie managing director, Eoin Clarke said: “Most broadband providers allow customers to install parental controls at a household level, which could give parents some peace of mind, and there are a number of apps available which allow parents to restrict access to certain content and websites. It’s important to remember that, for certain sites — like Facebook and YouTube — detailed privacy settings can be set at a site level”.

Assistant director for vulnerable communities at Interpol, and special adviser to CyberSafeIreland on online criminality, Mick Moran, said : “For all the advantages of this digital revolution, the reality is that the Internet also hugely facilitates those adults who have a sexual interest in children,” he said.

Children are asked to tell their digital story for the ‘What’s Your Story’ video competition, with €8,000 in cash prizes. The theme is: “If you could change one thing about your digital life, what would it be?”. To learn more go to www.whatsyourstory.trendmicro.ie.

This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner.

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