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Internet access

One in five children in first class have spoken to a stranger online

“Many young people will find ways of accessing what is forbidden to them.”

A NEW SURVEY has found that almost one in five children (17%) in first class in primary school have spoken to a stranger online.

The Digital Trend Report was compiled by Irish start-up Zeeko, which is based at Nova UCD.

Last year the company visited over 45 schools across Ireland – providing training for children, parents and teachers, and surveying 2,200 children about their online activities.

Other findings from the report include:

  • Over 54% of sixth class students have admitted to speaking to a stranger online.
  • When asked “if they had ever been cyberbullied or experienced cyberbullying happening to people around them” 15% of first class children, 26% of second class students, 26% of third class children, 24% of fourth class children and 23% of fifth class children, and 34% of sixth class students said yes.
  • Hand-held tablets are a more popular device used by students between first and sixth class than smartphones, laptops, consoles or iPods.
  • Two-thirds (67%) of children in third class access the internet, play games online and use apps from a tablet, as opposed to 42% using a laptop or desktop.
  • Half of children in fifth class have one or two hours a day “screen time” and over 30% of first and second class children spend one to two hours a day in front of screens.
  • iOS devices are more popular than Android across all age groups.

Zeeko founder Joe Kenny said the survey results “indicate that children as young as six and seven are creating their own online digital relationships by interacting with strangers”.

This should be of concern to parents and educators. The internet is a great resource and has enormous potential in the education setting … However, there are also many risks online especially for children. As mobile devices and powerful hand-held computers become more available and less expensive it is becoming more difficult for parents to restrict access.

“Many parents tell us that their children have apps or are using social media sites without their consent. Our advice to parents is that the best thing they can do is teach children how to navigate the internet safely.”

Zeeko Education / YouTube

Dr Grainne Kirwan, Department of Learning Sciences at the Institute of Art, Design and Technology (IADT), said:

“In my experience in over 13 years of researching online activities this is an area where great care must be taken in developing responses and policy, and while a blanket ban on online activities might seem to be an appropriate and straightforward solution, many young people will find ways of accessing what is forbidden to them.

In reality the internet is so much a part of daily life now, it will soon be impossible for parents to restrict access to it. Parents and educators need to guide children on how to behave in online environments to reduce risk, and provide support for their problems and questions. This is no different from the guidance children receive in the offline world where rules are well established for managing risky behaviours – for example, crossing the road, learning how to drive, or cycling in traffic.

Kenny set up Zeeko in 2013 as he was concerned about “the lack of attention being given to the growing dominance of the internet in children’s lives”. With backing from Enterprise Ireland and personal funding, Zeeko aims to provide training and education to parents and educators in schools to help protect children online.

It has launched a Kickstarter campaign today, with a target of raising €5,000 for its Internet Safety Guide for parents and educators – a digital copy of which will be distributed to all 3,300 schools in Ireland this year.

Read: ‘We can’t have a law that excludes things just because somebody’s offended’

Read: ‘I received death threats and constant torture’: Cyberbullying victims speak out

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