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Lockdown sees worrying surge in underage use of over-13 social media apps

82pc of eight to 12-year olds have profiles on social media and messaging apps


89pc of eight-year-olds have their own smart device. Photo: Depositphotos/posed

89pc of eight-year-olds have their own smart device. Photo: Depositphotos/posed

89pc of eight-year-olds have their own smart device. Photo: Depositphotos/posed

Social media use by under-age children has surged during lockdown, according to an annual online safety survey.

More eight to 12-year-olds than ever are using social media apps, despite being younger than the minimum age restrictions that are meant to apply.

Nearly one in three are able to go online at home whenever they want.

The research shows that about four in five (82pc) of these primary-aged children have profiles on social media and messaging apps that should not be accessible to anyone under 13.

That’s a big jump from 65pc last year and 60pc two years ago. Up to 42pc of those surveyed have played in online games where the minimum age for engagement is supposed to be 18.

Not only are more children being exposed to risk online through social media and gaming apps, but, increasingly, at a younger age.

It found that growing numbers of eight-year-olds are accessing the age 13+ apps, although their parents may think they are too young to be searching them out and signing up.

That is probably linked to rising smart device ownership levels among eight-year-olds – 89pc now have their own device such as smartphone or tablet, compared with 82pc a year ago.

The trends emerge in a survey of 2,089 eight- to 12-year-olds by the online safety charity CyberSafeKids, previously CyberSafeIreland. It was conducted between September 2020 and last month.The findings are released to mark Safer Internet Day and as a reminder to parents, teachers and all those responsible for young children, that the heightened usage of devices during the Covid lockdown brings increased risks, including exposure to inappropriate material and online grooming.

CybersafeKids CEO Alex Cooney said they were “concerned that there is not enough parental oversight of the content children are consuming, and that so many kids have friends or followers that they don’t actually know in real life”.

She said it was essential that parents were “having conversations with their kids and putting boundaries in place, as well as keeping an eye on what they’re consuming, who they’re talking to and what they’re posting”.

More than one in four (28pc) of the children in the survey have friends of followers who are strangers, down slightly from 30pc last year

When asked whether they were allowed to go online, most children reported particular times or rules, such as “every day for an agreed amount of time”, but 28pc said they could do it “whenever I want” and 15pc reported “no rules”.

Ms Cooney said that the findings on parental oversight suggested that lockdown was also bringing a relaxation of rules around internet use and access

One insight into how younger children may be slipping below the radar of any safety code in the home is that 31pc of eight-year-olds said they could go online “whenever I want”, well above the 18pc of nine-year-olds and 25pc of 10-year-olds.

Similarly in the question about house rules, 21pc of eight-year-olds said there were no rules, ahead of 12pc of nine-year-olds and 16pc of 12-year-olds

The survey found that 92pc of eight to 12-year-olds owned a smart device, such as a smartphone, tablet or console, slightly down on 93pc last year, although there was the big rise among eight-year-olds.

The video social media platform TikTok has consolidated itself as the most popular app with children aged eight to 12, although it has an age restriction of 13.

In the CyberSafeKids survey, 46pc have TikTok accounts, with girls ahead at 55pc, compared with boys (35pc). It is followed in popularity by WhatsApp (35pc/age restriction 16); Snapchat (33pc/13); Instagram (15pc/13); and House Party (16pc/13).

CyberSafeKids, which does online safety education programmes for primary schools, children and parents, has launched CyberSafe Tool for Schools to support schools to achieve best practice.

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