A third of pre-teens interact online with people they don't know 

A third of pre-teens interact online with people they don't know 

A new Irish survey suggests a third of pre-teen children are interacting online with people they don’t know — and a growing number of children are also not telling a trusted adult when they come across something upsetting online.

A third of pre-teen children are playing online with people they don’t know while a growing number of children are also not telling a trusted adult about something upsetting they came across online.

The findings are contained in the latest annual report by CyberSafeKids Ireland, which got the views of almost 4,000 children aged between eight and 12, as well as from teachers about the impact of online activity in schools.

It found that 93% owned their own smart device, a similar percentage to the figure in the previous annual report, and 84% reported using social media and instant messaging apps — despite minimum age restrictions on all of the popular apps of at least 13, meaning no child that age should be using them.

Four fifths of children play games online

The most popular apps were YouTube (74%), TikTok (47%), WhatsApp (39%) and Snapchat (37%), with a third of children that use social media apps posting videos of themselves online.

The children’s internet safety charity also found that 80% of pre-teens played online gaming, the majority of them boys. The survey found 61% of children reported that they had been contacted by a stranger in an online game, with more boys reporting this than girls, while the number of children playing online with strangers rose 16%, compared with the figure a year ago.

One third didn't tell parents about bad experiences

A quarter of participants in the CyberSafeKids review experienced something negative online that they would not want their parents to know about or saw something that bothered or upset them. Of those, 30% kept it to themselves rather than report it to their parents or someone else; last year that figure was 20%.

CyberSafeKids CEO Alex Cooney said a troubling development was the fall in the percentage of those children who, on experiencing something negative online, then told someone about it. "That's a really challenging one," she said. 

At this age, you want that if anything goes wrong online that they have a trusted adult they can tell. If they can't tell anyone about that, it can potentially get worse.

Ms Cooney said overall more children seemed to be speaking with parents about their use of devices and being online, possibly because of the pandemic with families spending more time together. However, 30% of children said they could ‘go online whenever I want’ and 13% of kids said ‘there are no rules’.

'Tighter regulation is needed' 

She said social media companies needed more and better regulation but that some positive developments had taken place over the past year, and she stressed that there should be room for digital skills in the curriculum and more effective parenting when it comes to what children are doing online: 

We need to recognise as parents that when children are active online, or even beforehand, that we prepare them, and I think a lot of parents don't see that.

The report also shows that 29% of children have experienced bullying online, including being excluded or sent hurtful messages, and that a quarter of these children kept this to themselves.

The report also features input from teachers, almost 80% of whom said online safety was a significant issue in their school. It found 61% of teachers surveyed had dealt with at least one incident over the last school year, while 21% had dealt with one incident, and 32% had dealt with two to five incidents.

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