Thursday 12 December 2019

Children 'more private than ever' online

Children's online habits are now more private than ever
Children's online habits are now more private than ever

Brian Byrne

CHILDREN'S internet usage has become "more private than ever" due to the rise of smartphones, according to a study.

But the EU Kids Online project also revealed that one in five young internet users are now the likely subject of hate messages online, while more than one in 10 may have endured cyber-bullying.

The three-year study of 25,000 children between the ages of nine and 16 in 25 countries, including Ireland, discovered 13pc were likely being exposed to pro-anorexia websites, and 11pc to self-harm websites. The study found that despite the benefits of children gaining digital skills, the chance of a child gaining these benefits depends on their age, gender and socio-economic status, on how their parents support them, and on the positive content available to them.

It found children's online user patterns have changed considerably and they were now using the internet in more places in their daily lives. In particular, new internet-enabled devices were making children's usage more private than ever.

It stated that the more frequently young people used the internet, the higher the risk of harm. "As internet use increases, ever greater efforts are needed to prevent risk also increasing," it said.

The study provided a number of recommendations for parents, including supporting children's exploration of the web and thinking less about the risks involved, and instead communicating regularly about trouble they might encounter, and being clear about rules regarding online behaviour.

However, the Chairman of the Internet Content Governance Advisory Group Brian O'Neill said that in Ireland, young people had a "relatively low" level of internet usage, with "rather high levels of parental restriction".

He said: "That limits what children can do, and the type of activities they engage in. Ireland is a lower-risk, rather lower-use country in our first overview of the European landscape.

"I would say parents clearly have concerns about children's activities and the risks that they encounter, but the research does not bear that up. Children in Ireland are rather risk averse and don't do those types of risky activities. If anything, they need more encouragement."

He said the survey had led to a number of positive political interventions, including the Government's Action Plan on Bullying, which he said has "certainly raised a lot of education activity around online safety".

Irish Independent

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