Friday 20 July 2018

'Online age of consent at 13 leaves teens vulnerable'

Mary Aiken, director of Cyber- Psychology Research Network. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Mary Aiken, director of Cyber- Psychology Research Network. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

Setting the digital age of consent at 13 means teens are vulnerable to online data breaches and political manipulation, a leading psychologist warned.

Mary Aiken warned that "our Government ministers are also comfortable with 13-year-old children becoming the target of malicious and manipulative psychological operations".

The Government has formed the view that 13 is the right age for children to be allowed to participate online, but this sparked a backlash, with many calling for the age to be set at 16.

Yesterday, the Irish Independent reported on new research showing adolescents experienced greater unhappiness through their teenage years if they went online too young. In fact, girls who spent an hour or more on social media by the age of 10 show lower well-being by the time they reached 15.

Dr Aiken, the director of the CyberPsychology Research Network, said: "This study provides yet more evidence of the negative impact of age-inappropriate use of social media by children.

"It is incredulous that in the face of the growing body of evidence highlighting the important role of parental monitoring and use of social media, that this Government is putting a digital age of consent policy in place that allows Irish 13-year-olds to be autonomous, unmonitored and unprotected on social media platforms."

She said this was particularly important given recent revelations about users' data being gathered and exploited for commercial or political ends.

Professor Barry O'Sullivan, director of the Insight Centre for Data Analytics at University College Cork, added: "We really need to introduce policies that protect children online, technologies that make clear what is real and what is fake, and technologies that are sensitive to the developmental state of young people."

Irish Independent

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