A recent report by the media regulator Ofcom revealed that the internet has become the most popular media pastime for children, overtaking television.
If we travel back 10 years ago, only half the UK population had access to the internet. Nowadays, crisis levels hit if you can’t log on to the Wi-Fi, and it is unthinkable for many to do something without sharing their activities on numerous social media accounts.
With the number of households to have an internet connection rising to over 90 percent this year, the number of children using social networking sites is skyrocketing with it. But, whilst the future generation is clearly tech savvy, the question is: are they tech safe?
It has been reported by the UK’s communications regulator, Ofcom, that one in five internet users aged between 12 and 15 have experienced risky behaviour online, such as sharing personal information with someone they have only ever had contact with via the internet. So, we explore the different ways in which tech savvy children may be using the internet, how they may be at risk of harm and what can be done to help ensure their wellbeing.
Last year, Ofcom reported that 6 in 10 children play games online, showcasing their gaming skills to people across the world and of all ages. Unlike many of us, children are no longer growing up playing Monopoly and Cluedo; instead, they explore virtual worlds, navigate numerous levels and use a range of intricate keyboard techniques as controls.
Ofcom’s annual report regarding children’s media use revealed that, in 2016, 62 percent of children played games online. Whilst the time spent playing online is undoubtedly developing and perfecting children’s technical skills, it is also putting them at risk of online grooming.
The Ofcom study revealed that 1 in 10 of all 8- to 11-year-olds plays games online against people they have not met – this number rises to one in four amongst children aged 12 to 15. The actual playing of the games is not the worry; it is the fact that a large majority of gaming sites accessed by children include the option to live chat to other players, with a quarter of gamers aged 12 to 15 admitting to chatting to people they do not know – this is where a child’s innocent online activity can take a dangerous turn.
People with intentions to harm children can use online platforms, such as gaming forums and social networks, to learn about a young person’s interests and use this knowledge to build up a relationship with them, whilst also hiding their true identity.
Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly common for groomers to no longer need to meet children in person to abuse them; instead, groomers are exploiting their victims over the internet. This exploitation can take many forms, including persuading a child to take part in online sexual activity or taking advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child.
Last year, over 2,100 young people accessed counselling sessions with Childline to discuss online child sexual exploitation and, even more alarmingly, over 57,000 webpages containing child sexual abuse images were identified by the Internet Watch Foundation.
These disturbingly high figures emphasise just how important it is to teach the younger generation how to protect themselves online, including safeguarding against online grooming. Schools can utilise our E-Safety Leaflet for Pupils, which is designed using child-friendly language, to ensure that pupils understand how they can stay safe whilst surfing the web.
Chatting to unknown people via gaming sites is not the only concern to arise from children’s internet use.
These days, social media is not only a form of entertainment but is also a key communication tool. The popularity of social networking sites has risen over recent years and youngsters now have a range of different platforms to choose from when communicating.
In 2016, more than half of all 12-year-olds had a social media profile and almost 9 in 10 children aged 15 had a profile, demonstrating the prevalence that social media has, particularly amongst teenagers.
Undeniably, social media is a great form of communication, but chatting to friends is no longer what it used to be – these days it involves sharing photos, videos and even your location with your online following.
Through the vast amount of photoshopped images and skillfully edited videos which are shared online daily, the ever-increasing technical ability of today’s youth is clear for all to see. Although, these active social sharers rarely realise the dangers their seemingly innocent actions can bring.
Take Snapchat for instance; last year over 51 percent of 12-to-15-year-olds had an account with the app. This year, they have launched Snap Map, which allows Snapchat users to see the exact location of other users. This has unsurprisingly raised child protection concerns due to the lack of safeguarding measures to stop this information being accessed by someone with untoward intentions.
With only half of 8- to 17-year-olds saying they think about what personal information they are sharing before posting something online, there is a real need for children to be taught about what is appropriate to be shared online and the risks associated with sharing personal information. With socialising apps being continuously developed, it is important to ensure that children are aware that what they post online can be seen by more people than necessarily intended, and that they understand the need to enforce strict privacy settings.
To help schools promote safe use of social media and teach children about the necessary safety measures to put in place, we have created a Social Media Infographic using child-friendly terminology.
The rise in communication via social media also poses a risk to children’s wellbeing by providing a new platform for bullying.
In the past, bullying was restricted to the playground, but now children have the opportunity to taunt and tease 24/7, with two percent of 11-to-15-year-olds still messaging via social networks at midnight. This ability to bully someone in the comfort of their own home and in a variety of formats causes continuous distress for victims.
Tech savvy bullies can often be found posting upsetting comments, creating vile images and sharing inappropriate content. Whilst the technical skills used by some of these bullies is impressive, the amount of harm being caused to people’s wellbeing and mental health is a worry – and social media is only fuelling this fire.
Last year over 12,000 counselling sessions with Childline were accessed by young people regarding online issues, with one-in-three children reporting that they have been a victim of cyber bullying. Schools can play a key role in reducing these numbers by teaching pupils about the appropriate manner in which to behave online and enforcing the same sanctions online as the school does in the classroom.
To help schools promote an anti-bullying culture, we created a Social Media Policy and a Social Media Agreement which can be used to ensure that all members of the school are aware of their expected conduct whilst online and that the necessary disciplinary measures are implemented. We also created cyber bullying policies specifically for primary and secondary schools, which set out the procedure for dealing with online bullying incidents.
So, what can you do to make the internet a safer place?
Schools can raise awareness of online safety by teaching pupils about the dangers lurking online, ensuring that they understand the different steps they can take to protect themselves and reinforcing the type of online behaviour which is unacceptable.
To help combat the problems of cyber bullying and online safety (or lack thereof), here at TheSchoolBus we have created a range of resources to help schools promote e-safety. To find out more information, explore our Online Safety and Social Media topic.
NSPCC (2017) ‘Online abuse: Facts and statistics’, <https://www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/child-abuse-and-neglect/online-abuse/facts-statistics/> [Accessed: 15 August 2017]
NSPCC (2017) ‘Sexual abuse: Facts and statistics’, <https://www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/child-abuse-and-neglect/child-sexual-abuse/sexual-abuse-facts-statistics/> [Accessed: 16 August 2017]
Ofcom (2016) ‘Children and parents: media use and attitudes report’
Office for National Statistics (2017) ‘Statistical bulletin: Internet access – households and individuals 2017’, <https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/householdcharacteristics/homeinternetandsocialmediausage/bulletins/internetaccesshouseholdsandindividuals/2017>, [Accessed: 15 August 2017]
The Telegraph (2017) ‘Parents need to stop kids bingeing on social media ‘like junk food’, children’s commissioner says’, <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/08/06/parents-need-stop-kids-bingeing-social-media-like-junk-food/> [Accessed: 15 August]
UK Safer Internet Centre (2017) ‘Key statistics from the Safer Internet Day 2017 report’, <https://www.saferinternet.org.uk/blog/key-statistics-safer-internet-day-2017-report> [Accessed: 15 August 2017]