1/5 of Grade Schoolers Met Up with Online Strangers in Real Life

A frightening look at unsafe internet use by 9- to 11-year-old children has revealed that almost one-fifth (18%) have met up with online strangers in real life, most of whom were met through online games (47% ) or social media and online chat (26%).

To put that statistic even more in focus for parents, 53% of them went to their first meeting alone.

The survey, carried out by (ISC)2, also found that 16% of primary school children have posted, sent or received images that they would not want their family to know about; and 72% of those who received an image that upset them did not tell anyone else about it.

And 13% have accepted friend requests on social media from strangers —evidence that the practice of befriending strangers online via Facebook and Skype, et al, is becoming commonplace.

The survey data also exposed an alarmingly high level of unsupervised internet use among young children, with 24% admitting their parents never check what they do on social networks, and one-third saying that they access the internet at home from the privacy of their own bedrooms. Children also admit to having received little formal teaching on internet safety, with 31% saying they’ve never had a lesson on how to protect themselves online.

 “Young children appear to encounter less adult supervision online than in the real world, which is encouraging them to take greater risks than they would in their offline lives,” said Tim Wilson, a school governor and lead volunteer with the (ISC)2 Foundation’s Safe and Secure Online program, which was launched in 2006 by (ISC)2 to help children protect themselves online and to create responsible digital citizens. “Many parents would be shocked at the material their children are sharing and receiving online, and how often relationships that are initiated in the virtual world culminate in real-world meetings.”

The findings also exposed the extent to which children are falsifying their age in cyberspace, with 20% of primary school pupils admitting that they pretend to be over 18 on the internet (and a whopping 13% pretend to be 26 or older). Children also report being targeted by adults who lie about their age, with 11% admitting that they were duped into accepting a ‘friend request’ from an internet stranger who appeared to be under 18, but was later revealed to be an adult.

Growing internet use among children is also having a negative impact on education. About 5.1% of 9 to 11-year-olds have been late and 1.8% absent due to late-night web surfing, while a full third (33%) admit that late-night internet use and online gaming has harmed their education.

 “At a time when children are using technology at an earlier age, with 41% of 9- to 11-year-olds telling our survey they use the internet every day, we need internet safety education at the primary school level,” Wilson said. “It is vital that parents and carers engage children in honest dialogue about their online behavior, and that children are not embarrassed or afraid to approach an adult about upsetting experiences they have had online.”

Parents also need to be more aware of online dangers, to help them take a more active role in supervising children’s internet use, from moving the home computer from the bedroom to the living room to encouraging children to talk more openly about any concerning experiences they may have had online.

Other interesting data points include the fact that 14% of younger children said that they have felt uncomfortable or upset chatting to an online contact whom they have never met. And 19% have posted online pictures of themselves or their friends in their school uniform.

Adrian Davis, managing director for (ISC)2 EMEA, added, “We set up the (ISC)2 initiative because our members, many of whom are at the forefront of the fight against cybercrime, saw the growing threats to child safety on the internet and how their expertise could be used to help children protect themselves online. Volunteers began going into schools across the country to work with parents, teachers, and pupils to make them aware of both the dangers and the safeguards they can put in place. This presents a way for the technology industry to demonstrate its commitment to internet safety and to help children become more cyber-savvy as they grow up and pursue careers in an increasingly digital economy.”

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