One in 10 children who video chat with strangers have been asked to change or undress on camera according to a new survey on the online behaviour of 7-16-year-olds, leading to calls for tech companies to change and put safety of children first.
The survey - titled 'Hopes and Streams' and conducted by not-for-profit London Grid for Learning DigiSafe - is the largest of its kind ever, having interviewed some 40,000 children across the UK, and focused on six main facets of online interaction: video chatting, apps, contact risk (making friends online), sharing of content, pornography, and mental health.
The startling results of the report reflect a worrying trend of increased mental health concerns and sexually explicit content becoming more widely shared and available online, leading children survey to express misgivings regarding sexting and child sexual exploitation via live streaming, mental health issues, and increasing distress caused by sharing of sexual and violent videos.
With one in ten 7-16 year olds having made friends with an adult online, and 10% of children (some as young as seven or eight) who video chat with strangers having been asked to change or undress on camera, LGfL DigiSafe have raised the alarm about the importance of online safety for children.
"The dangers of the internet are real and serious," said John Jackson, CEO at LGfL. "However, so are the many opportunities – it’s important we prepare young people to navigate the worst and thrive on the best of the online world.
“It’s incredibly important that we all harness the findings from the survey to drive positive change and a much better understanding of how technology, particularly social media, is impacting children," he added. “It is encouraging to see government getting behind these calls for change with papers such as the Internet Safety Strategy. It’s crucial that technology companies embrace these policies and put safety first when it comes to new developments.”
With 22.4% of pupils having seen violent images/videos online (and 12.8% having received images from another young person and 6.2% from an adult), sexually explicit content being shared across social media is a growing issue. Some 9% of those surveyed had received a naked or semi-naked image from another young person, while 15.1% of secondary students had received a sexual message (5.4% of which were from an adult).
Mark Bentley, Online Safety and Safeguarding Manager at LGfL DigiSafe, said: "The danger of meeting strangers online is often treated as the main online safety concern. This report however, shows that today violent or sexual content has become far more prevalent.
"We are concerned by the mental health concerns raised by the survey, particularly regarding self-harm," he added, with 25% of pupils having reported being bullied online and almost one in six pupils having seen something that encourages self-harm. “It is, however, encouraging to see that so many pupils consider the internet a force for good.
"Comments on the things pupils love about their online lives included learning new skills, broadening their horizons and building strong relationships," ark said. "Another huge positive is the fact that 73% of pupils said they trust parents on online safety with 71.2% of pupils who spoke to someone telling a parent or carer and 36.1% telling a teacher about negative experiences.”
The full LGfL DigiSafe Hopes and Streams report on the 2018 Pupil Online-Safety Survey is available on the LGfL website at pupilsurvey.lgfl.net.