Stranger danger: Children under 10 are talking to strangers online

27th August 2019

A summer of playing in the garden or at the park, and days out exploring the great outdoors are drawing to a close. As the weather cools and the evenings start to get darker earlier, children will be spending more time entertaining themselves indoors. Which likely means more time on the Internet watching YouTube videos, playing games, and chatting to their friends. Or so we think.

40% of eight to 10-year olds talk to strangers online

A recent survey by CyberSafe Ireland found that close to 40% of eight to 10-year olds talk to strangers online. Of that 40%, as many as 15% speak to a stranger online every day. It’s a statistic that sounds worryingly high. But despite readily allowing our children to own and use devices that let them access the Internet whenever and wherever they like, we’re not as forthcoming about discussing the dangers with them.

80% of 8-10 year olds own a device to access the Internet

CyberSafe Ireland’s survey found that 80% of eight to 10-year olds can easily access the Internet on their own device. But a recent global survey by AVG of 9,485 parents and guardians found that only 43% of them talk to their children on a regular basis about their online behaviour. This is despite 60% of 10-year olds using social media and messaging apps such as Snapchat, WhatsApp and TikTok. It’s clear that parents aren’t speaking to children enough about what they should and shouldn’t do online, or telling them how to stay safe.

60% of 10-year olds use social media and messaging apps

The introduction of video on many social media apps and sites presents a new risk. In a survey of nearly 40,000 children aged seven to 16, the NSPCC found that almost a quarter of those surveyed had livestreamed and almost one in eight had video-chatted with a complete stranger. Over one in 10 children who had video-chatted had been asked to get undressed and of those who had livestreamed, over one in 20 were asked to remove clothes.

Seeing statistics like this make it clear that we need to be talking to children more about the importance of staying safe online. But what exactly should we be discussing?

Tips on talking about online safety

In today’s digital age, it’s important to continually remind children that speaking to strangers online is dangerous, in the same way that you’d remind them not to speak to strangers in real life.

When talking online, it’s very easy for people to pretend to be younger or for adults to pose as children. So be sure to warn your kids that predators will lie about their age and who they are.

Set firm rules that your children should never reveal personal information like their name, address, phone number, school, or their friends’ names online. The more an online predator knows about a child, the easier it is for them to find them, or pretend to be someone they can trust.

It goes without saying that you need to make it clear that under no circumstances should your child ever meet up with someone they met online without your permission. If this situation ever arises, it’s a good idea to agree in advance that if you ever do allow your child to meet someone, you'll be going with them too.

Spending time online, chatting to friends and going on their favourite websites are things all children look forward to doing. So, when you’re setting rules it’s best to approach the discussion in a positive way. Be honest and explain that you’re only looking out for them, and that you want to keep the Internet a fun and safe place for them and their friends.

As well as having those important conversations, there are other measures you can put in place to help keep your children safe. Here are seven things that you can try in your home.

Seven ways to help improve safety online at home

1. Keep computers in common areas

If you can see the computer screen, it’s much easier to keep an eye on what your children are doing online.

2. No tablets or phones in bed

Sticking to this rule not only prevents your child from using the Internet alone later in the evening, but staying off devices in bed will improve their sleep too.

3. Turn going online into family time

Turning spending time online into a social activity offline is a great message to send to children, while also helping keep them safe.

4. Know your children’s passwords

While boundaries and respecting your children’s privacy is important, if they’re not at an age where they’ll be accessing things like personal banking online, sharing passwords can help keep them safe.

5. Check browsing history

If you’re concerned about the sites that your child might be going on, keep an eye on all of your devices’ browsing history.

6. Block access to sites

Most Internet service providers can add filters that will block inappropriate websites and content. You can buy Wi-Fi routers with parental controls too.

7. Set curfews

Managing online time not only helps prevent children from being on the Internet alone at night, but is a good way to limit their screen time and encourage other activity.

Changes in behaviour to look out for

You’ve spoken to your children about staying safe online and you’ve put measures in place at home to help put your mind at ease. But it’s impossible to know who they’re speaking to online all of the time. It’s important to stay alert to changes such as: your child being secretive about what they do online; becoming withdrawn from their friends and family; or receiving unexplained gifts.

It is important to be involved and interested in your child’s life, whether on or offline, so that conversations like these are natural and regular. This should help keep your children safe, and confident that if they have any concerns or fears they can talk to you!

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