We need to step up and be parents

February 14th, 2023 11:40 AM

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A SURVEY on children’s reactions to online safety was released in Ireland this week.

Charity CyberSafeKids, with the National Parents Council, launched its ‘Same Rules Apply’ campaign on Tuesday as part of Safer Internet Day. 

The campaign aims to encourage parents to approach parenting children online in the same way that they parent them offline. 

But the real story here was the result of the survey which they published on the same day. The survey organisers spoke to more than 1,600 Irish children, aged 8–12, between September 2022 and January 2023.

They found that 30% of these children said they can go online whenever they want and 22% had seen content online that they wouldn’t want their parents to know about. 

Two shocking figures, given what we now know about the many negative effects of social media, from bullying to pornography, to inciting hatred, violence and radicalisation, and that’s just for starters. 

There were, however, some positive findings from the survey – including that over 40% said they were not allowed to chat or game with strangers. 

Also, more than half (56%) said they were not allowed to add friends they didn’t know, and almost a third (29%) said they were only allowed online at certain times. Interestingly, though, a much higher percentage of boys than girls had no rules in place for going online (24%, versus 14% of girls).

This is particularly worrying given the growing links between the internet and violence against women.

But, in a sign of more children becoming aware of the dangers of social media, exactly half said that they felt they spend too much time online.

A quarter said that they find it hard to switch off from games and apps, but a respectable 22% acknowledged that they ‘waste’ a lot of time online. That is perhaps the most interesting result in the whole survey.

If that figure rises in years to come, we may find that a substantial cohort will eventually reject the constant need to be ‘connected’ as teenagers. But maybe we shouldn’t hold our breath just yet – 22% might be more than many parents expected, but it’s still not enough!

A CyberSafeKids spokesperson said the charity’s main concern is around unsupervised access – in places like bedrooms, with doors shut, leaving children vulnerable to stumbling across highly inappropriate content or being contacted by strangers – in a place that should be safe and protected. 

Worryingly, only 18% of 8-12 year olds surveyed said they weren’t allowed devices in their bedroom. 

The charity has now advised parents to have ongoing conversations with children about their online lives, and to regularly monitor what they’re seeing and doing online. We need a shift in mindset on how we approach the challenges of parenting online, they say.

Parenting in this digital age can feel overwhelming and sometimes scary, they point out. However, parents should reassure themselves that by working on having a good open relationship with their children and by ensuring that they listen to their children when they talk, they are doing the most important thing to keep their children safe.

Of course, the bottom line here is that many children, having seen something upsetting, either of a violent or sexual nature, online, will not want to divulge that to a parent, for fear of losing phone access.

CyberSafeKids also believe that the burden of responsibility to support children shouldn’t fall on parents alone. We need a much stronger focus on education so that the conversation around risks and opportunities online continues from the home and is supported in school, they point out. 

But, of course, gaming and social media platforms must also be more responsible, and we need better legal frameworks to police this. Whatever the solutions, let’s move forward together.

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