Half of children lying about their age online

Children are getting around online access restrictions by lying about their age to access social networks or other websites, a survey suggests.

A study of 1,140 children aged 10 to 17 found that half have adjusted their age online, with slightly more boys than girls admitting to having done so.

The survey for the Irish Computer Society, a national body for IT professionals, found that 45% of boys say their parents are not aware of what they are doing online. Just under 40% of girls said the same thing, and 7% of all 338 girls and 800-plus boys said they have given personal information to strangers online.

The findings highlight behaviour also shown up earlier this year in Irish research for an EU study of young people’s online behaviour. That project, led by head of Dublin Institute of Technology’s media school Brian O’Neill, found almost 40% of children aged 11 and 12 have social networking profiles despite most social media sites having a minimum age limit of 13.

However, the ICS findings vary from those of the EU research, as it suggests far higher online activity for schoolwork. More than two thirds of girls and 55% of boys who responded say they use the web for school.

However, the findings published in February show the corresponding figure for all Irish children aged nine to 16 was just 20%, although 39% of girls aged 13 or more do so.

The ICS study shows 83% of girls and 77% of boys say social media is one of their main internet activities, with gaming almost twice as common among boys (57%) than it is with girls (32%).

The latest survey also reiterates the prevalence of cyberbullying, as nearly a quarter of those aged 10 to 17 said they have had harmful comments posted about them online. However, 14% of boys and 8% of girls say they would not report such behaviour if they saw it.

A report received by Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte last month makes recommendations about the governance of internet content, and is due to be brought to Cabinet soon. It is expected to suggest more specific classes regarding cyberbullying in primary and second-level schools, as well as training for parentsto keep them up to speed with technological developments.

However, the service providers and site operators could also be advised to take greater control about options for content filters and young people’s access to unsuitable material.


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