Half of eight-year-olds are signed up to social media using false age
A major national survey shows that half of eight-year-olds are signed up to social media, rising to two-thirds of 11-year-olds.
The study of almost 4,000 children by CyberSafeIreland also shows that 12pc of eight-year-olds are spending more than four hours online every day, with 43pc speaking to strangers online.
More than a third of eight-year-old boys are playing games designated as over-18, while a majority of teachers now say they are struggling to cope with online safety issues, such as cyberbullying, in the classroom.
The children were surveyed over the past academic year. Some 92pc of eight to 13-year-olds own a smart device, such as a phone or tablet.
"As a teacher with 20 years' experience, I know how kids this age like to spend their time, but it's astonishing to think that 12pc of the children surveyed spend four or more hours per day online," said Philip Arneill, head of education and innovation at CyberSafeIreland.
"That amount of daily screen time equates to a total of 61 days each year. While technology undoubtedly brings social and educational benefits, it is vital that screen time is monitored and that it is balanced appropriately with all the other aspects that contribute to a healthy lifestyle.
"It is imperative that parents and teachers are able to equip children with all the relevant skills to keep themselves safe, given the many risks that they face."
A separate UCD study, prepared for CyberSafeIreland, recently showed that the 10 most popular social networks do not effectively police age restrictions, despite tightening EU rules over the digital age of consent.
The study analysed procedures of Snapchat, Instagram, Tiktok, Viber, Skype, Facebook, HouseParty, Discord, Messenger and WhatsApp.
"A child can circumvent all the social networks listed by entering a false age," said the authors of the report, UCD assistant professor of computer science Liliana Pasquale and Paola Zippo, a UCD Master's student.
CyberSafeIreland's CEO Alex Cooney said that recent EU legislation is not having a substantial effect on the vacuum of enforcement around children accessing social networks that are meant for older teenagers and adults.
"Children can still access any platform relatively easily, as there is no age verification in place," she said.
"To access any platform, all you have to do is say you are 16, and this is taken at face value.
"We are urging the Government to establish a long-term strategy that includes strong and effective measures on education, public awareness and regulation. The online service providers benefit so much from their users, without having to take the full degree of responsibility that they should.
"So much more needs to be done, and given the number of kids who are active online, time is of the essence."