Teens across Europe are becoming more exposed to dangerous websites and cyberbullying, but young Irish people are taking fewer risks than others.
That is the conclusion of a researcher at the end of a four-year project to survey children about their internet use and parental controls.
The final report of the EU Kids Online survey highlights how 11 to 16 year olds across Europe were more likely to be exposed now to harmful material than when the first surveys were carried out in 2010. For example, 20% are now exposed to hate messages, up from 13%, but there is also increased exposure to pro-anorexia sites (up from 9% to 13%); self-harm sites (11%, up from 7%); and cyberbullying (up from 7% to 12%).
The findings are based on extensive surveys across 33 countries, but EU Kids Online research leader Brian O’Neill said there were rather low levels of internet use here and higher levels or parental restrictions than average.
“Of course, that obviously determines or limits what children do and the kinds of activities they engage in. So this characterised Ireland as lower risk and a rather lower-use country,” he said.
He said parents clearly had concerns about children’s online activities and the kind of risks they might encounter.
However, he said the research showed Irish children were rather risk-averse and, if anything, they needed encouragement to go online more. One of the recommendations of EU Kids Online is a need to promote digital opportunities for young people.
“We certainly need to raise more awareness around risks and safety, balancing opportunities with appropriate and good safety measures,” said Mr O’Neill, head of research at Dublin Institute of Technology’s college of arts and tourism.
The EU project has recommended, on the basis of its findings, that parents support children’s exploration of the internet from an early age and inform themselves about the benefits as well as the risks. They should also focus on enhancing children’s coping skills and resilience to potential harm, and be clear about expectations and rules about online behaviour.
Mr O’Neill said the research over the past four yeas had helped to raise public awareness of these issues and had an impact on political policy. “We’ve had a number of strong political interventions, an action plan on bullying which has certainly raised a lot of education activity around online safety.”
It also influenced policy and the considerations of the Government’s taskforce on internet content governance, which Mr O’Neill also chaired and whose report was published during the summer.
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