According to new research, almost a third of tweens play online games 18+ and are more likely to be exposed to violent images and harmful content.
The figures are contained in the annual report of the Internet safety charity CyberSafeKids.
According to the data, 95% of children between the ages of 8 and 12 own their own smart device, while 87% have their own social network or instant messaging account, despite minimum age restrictions of 13 in all the most popular applications.
More than a third of children reported that they can go online “whenever they want”, and 15% reported that they “have no rules” at home for going online.
More than a quarter of children surveyed said they had been bothered by content they encountered online, and 29% of them kept it to themselves rather than report it to their parents or someone else.
28% of children said they had been bullied online, while 64% of children said they had been contacted by a stranger in an online game.
A quarter of kids on social media reported having friends and followers they don’t know about offline, and a fifth of kids said they’ve seen something online that they wouldn’t want their parents to know about.
CyberSafeKids urges greater vigilance over what children see, do and say online.
“This year’s data shows that our young children are being exposed to a great deal of inappropriate content that can be violent, disturbing and sometimes sexual in nature,” said CyberSafeKids Executive Director Alex Cooney.
“Video game creators and the owners of the big social media platforms need to do a lot more with the huge profits they make, to monitor harmful content on their services, especially when it relates to a child,” he added.
“We urge the government to implement legislation that holds online service providers to meaningful account when things go wrong for a child online, and ask it to invest more resources in supporting parents and educators,” the statement said. Mrs Cooney.
The charity highlights a recent case where it was notified of engaging in sexually explicit and aggressive language in a Snapchat group, created by a group of sixth graders from different schools starting at the same high school.
The mother of one of the children described the language used as offensive, unpleasant and horrendous.
“I wasn’t vigilant enough and took steps to address that, but the duty of care cannot fall on children and parents alone,” the mother said.
CyberSafeKids surveyed nearly 4,500 children ages 8-12 between September 2021 and June 2022.
The study shows that YouTube is the most popular app followed by TikTok, Snapchat and WhatsApp.
Bullying is a major problem online – Cooney
Alex Cooney said online bullying can be harder to detect, and while 28% of children surveyed said they had experienced online bullying, a third of them “kept it to themselves”.
The concern is that it too often hides, he said, and doesn’t emerge as a problem until it’s fairly advanced.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Ms Cooney added that there is no doubt that children have great access to the online world and are exposed to inappropriate content.
“Over the years, we’ve also gotten calls from the public, from principals, teachers, parents, grandparents, social workers, you know, all concerned about the well-being of a child, whether they’re caught in a bullying situation, sometimes it’s preparation. Sometimes it’s inappropriate content that they’ve been exposed to, for example, pornography.”
Ms. Cooney urged parents to set ground rules about online use. Safeguards on sites are often an afterthought and not part of the core design, she added.
“We know that kids can access a lot of information online. And obviously there’s a lot of great stuff that they can access. But at the end of the day, these sites were designed for adults. The Internet was designed for adults, not for children. And safeguards are often a modification, you know, they’re an afterthought. They’re not a core part of the design of those services.”
Ms Cooney said the fine imposed on Meta by the Data Protection Commissioner for data breaches will act as a deterrent and force companies to better protect children online.