More than one-third of under-13s play games online with strangers – study

Some 93% of children own a smart device, according to CyberSafeKids research

About a third (32 per cent) of children are posting videos of themselves online, according to new research. Photograph: iStock

About a third (32 per cent) of children are posting videos of themselves online, according to new research. Photograph: iStock

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More than a third of children under the age of 13 are playing games online with strangers and almost a third have been bullied online at least once, figures published on Thursday show.

A survey of almost 4,000 children aged between eight and 12, by the CyberSafeKids organisation, conducted over the last academic year and during lockdowns, found 93 per cent owned a smart device – ie with access to the internet.

Of the 3,904 children surveyed, 80 per cent play games online and 61 per cent of the total said they had been contacted by a stranger who was also playing online. Boys (68 per cent) were more likely to report this than girls (56 per cent).

The survey does not specify whether the strangers are other children or adults.

“A huge number of the children surveyed (84 per cent) reported using social media and instant messaging apps, despite minimum age restrictions on all of the popular apps of at least 13,” says the report. “The most popular apps were YouTube (74 per cent), TikTok (47 per cent), WhatsApp (39 per cent) and Snapchat (37 per cent).”

Video sharing

About a third (32 per cent) of children are posting videos of themselves online, with TikTok by far the most popular platform for video sharing (80 per cent).

Alex Cooney, chief executive of CyberSafeKids, said: “In a year of Covid-19 lockdowns we are seeing huge numbers of preteens owning devices and being active online. Unfortunately, a significant number of children are having negative experiences, including 29 per cent of children reporting at least one bullying experience.

“While online gaming is clearly a hugely popular pursuit for this age group, it also poses risks, with over one third of children playing games with strangers and a notable increase on last year.”

She said a national campaign was needed to provide parents and teachers with necessary information and support to ensure children were safe and having positive experiences online. The proposed Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill must give users greater powers over content that has caused them harm, she added.

This must include stronger measures to ensure social media and gaming platforms remove such content “quickly and efficiently”.

When asked if they had seen something online that they wouldn’t want their parents to know about, almost a quarter (22 per cent) of the children said “yes”.

However, of those children who had encountered disturbing content online, most (54 per cent) had reported it to a parent or trusted adult, though 30 per cent said that they had kept it to themselves – a 10 per cent increase on the 20 per cent who reported this in 2019.