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Over a third of pre-teens are gaming online with people they don't know

It represents a 16% increase on the previous year’s figure.

OVER ONE THIRD of pre-teen children are gaming online with people they don’t know and a growing number said they would not tell a trusted adult if they saw something online that bothered them, the CyberSafeKids charity has found.

In its annual report the charity surveyed 4,000 children aged between eight and 12 about their online habits. It found that 36% of children gamed online with people they did not know offline.

This represents a 16% increase on the previous year. The figure for boys stood at 41%, while for girls it was 31%.

The survey found that 93% owned their own smart device, a similar finding to the previous report, and 84% reported using social media and instant messaging apps, despite all the popular apps having minimum age restrictions of at least 13.

The most popular apps were YouTube (74%), TikTok (47%), WhatsApp (39%) and Snapchat (37%).

Nearly a third (32%) of the children using social media are posting videos of themselves online. TikTok was found to be the most popular platform for video sharing, with 80% of children who post videos uploading them on that app.

The report asked children if they have friends and followers on social media apps that they have not met in real life.

Most children (63%) responded ‘no’, over a quarter (28%) said ‘yes’ and almost one in 10 (9%) said they weren’t sure.

CyberSafeKids said this latter response could be related to open accounts, where privacy settings are not enabled and when the user doesn’t have to vet incoming friend requests. Consequently, they could be less aware of who is on their follower list.

The report notes that the Covid-19 pandemic has led to digital technologies becoming central to the lives of pre-teens.

A quarter of participants in the survey said they experienced something negative online that they would not want their parents to know about or saw something that bothered or upset them.

Of those, 30% said they kept it to themselves rather than report it to their parents or someone else, the charity said this is a worrying increase on last year when the figure was 20%.

The report also found that 29% of children have experienced bullying online, including being excluded or receiving hurtful messages. A quarter of these children kept this to themselves.

The report also explored the impact on schools, it found that almost 80% of teachers said online safety was a significant issue in their school.

A total of 61% of teachers surveyed had dealt with at least one incident over the last school year, while 21% had dealt with one incident, and 32% had dealt with two to five incidents.

CyberSafeKids is calling for a national campaign to provide parents and teachers with the information and support they need to help ensure children have safe and positive experiences online.

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