Teen exposure to harmful material online doubles

Teenagers’ exposure to harmful online material has doubled in just two years as youngsters spending more time on the web and have their own social networking profiles before even reaching their teens.

The research findings are part of an EU project and show that one in five Irish children say they have been bothered by something on the internet in the past year. This is double the figure reported in 2011 and is as high as 37% among 15- to 16-year-olds.

However, while older teens experience more bullying or see more sexualimages or other unsuitable content, the study reveals that almost 40% of Irish 11- and 12-year-olds have a social networking profile despite age restrictions set at 13 for most services. One in 10 of those aged 13 or 14 has received sexual messages online, rising to 22% of 15- and 16-year-olds.

The Net Children Go Mobile report is based on interviews conducted with more than 500 young people last November and December as part of the EU Kids Online Project examining children’s risks and safety online.

“This latest research highlights just how much smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices have transformed young people’s use of the internet, making it all the more accessible but also creating new areas of risks such as increased levels of bullying and exposure to potential harmful content,” said research director Brian O’Neill.

Over 20% of those interviewed have been bullied either online or in other situations, but girls are more likely to have suffered. Among 13- and 14-year-olds, 13% have been bullied on a social networking site.

More than a third of girls aged 13 to 16 have seen sites with harmful content from other users, such as hate messages (seen by 15% of all children aged 11-16), promoting being very skinny, anorexic, or bulimic (14%), or discussing ways to self-harm (9%) or die by suicide (8%).

Most internet use still takes place at home, with almost two thirds of children going online there daily. Almost half go online in their bedrooms daily and one in five have several online sessions a day in their rooms.

Over a third of Irish children mostly use smartphones to go online, 29% use laptops the most, and 27% use a tablet. However, 87% of children never or almost never access the internet while on the move, mostly relying instead on free wifi access.

Mr O’Neill said new strategies may be needed to ensure young people’s safety and welfare in a post-desktop internet environment. The parents and teachers of around 80% of students actively guide their internet use by suggesting how to behave with others or talking about what to do if someone bothers them online.

Only 7% go online in school every day, compared to 61% in Denmark, 29% in UK, 11% in Romania, and 8% in Italy.

“At a time when greater use of technology in education has been widely advocated, as has the need to enhance young people’s digital skills, the low use of the internet in schools for all age groups will be of concern to policymakers,” the report said.

Listening to music and watching video clips are the most popular activities online, engaged in every day by half those interviewed, but moreso among girls than boys, who engage far less in most online activities, except for computer games.


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