Children as young as eight are being put at risk through unsupervised access to the internet, ignoring age restrictions on apps and talking to strangers online, a new survey has found.
According to internet safety charity CyberSafeIreland, a national information campaign is needed along the lines of road safety and healthy eating campaigns to help raise awareness of the issue among parents and guardians.
It found more than a third of children aged eight to 13 are rarely – if ever – speaking to their parents about internet safety. Of those, 34 per cent said they were in regular contact with a stranger online.
Almost half of pupils in third class have some sort of online presence on social media and messaging apps
The survey results were published to coincide with Safer Internet Day, an EU-wide initiative that aims to encourage safer and more responsible use of online technology.
The study was carried out between September and November last year, and surveyed 1,500 children aged between eight and 13. The study said more than two-thirds of children had a smartphone and about 50 per cent were using social media and messaging apps that have an over 13 age policy. Almost half of pupils in third class have some sort of online presence on social media and messaging apps, with that figure rising to 83 per cent of sixth class students.
Some 28 per cent of children are spending more than two hours online every day and 69 per cent use services such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. All three services prohibit under-13s from using their platforms in their respective terms of service.
We simply cannot continue to have this enormous gap between what children are doing online and what parents know
The charity has called for a national campaign to highlight the issue for parents and teachers, and to provide them with the information they need to help protect their children.
Guidance and supervision
"It is essential that any child who has access to the internet, especially when they are young, only does so with guidance and supervision from a parent or carer," Alex Cooney, CyberSafeIreland's chief executive said.
The internet charity called for parents to do their research on what apps and services their children were using, and to start a conversation with them about appropriate behaviour online.
CyberSafeIreland’s programme director Cliona Curley said Ireland needed to get to grips with online safety for children. “We simply cannot continue to have this enormous gap between what children are doing online and what parents know and understand about their children’s online lives,” she said. “Children love technology and there are certainly benefits to that but we must educate both children and parents to manage the many risks that children are exposed to online”.
The survey comes following the sentencing last month of Dublin man Matthew Horan to a 9½ year term for blackmailing young girls into sending him sexually graphic photos and videos using used Skype, Snapchat, Instagram and messaging app Kik.
The Government said it would appoint a digital safety commissioner later this year to monitor child online safety, promote positive digital use among children and young people, and help identify and remove illegal content.