Nearly 85pc of pre-teens using social media apps despite age restrictions

A third of Irish children aged between eight and 12 post videos of themselves online, according to a primary school study.

he research was conducted among 4,000 children between those ages.

It also revealed 84pc use at least one social media or messaging service such as Snapchat or TikTok, despite minimum age restrictions on all of the popular apps of at least 13 years.

And 93pc of pre-teens now have some kind of phone, tablet or other smart device, with almost a third saying that they have been bullied online.

The figures from CyberSafeKids have been released as the Government’s online safety commissioner now looks unlikely to be appointed until 2023.

Meanwhile, TikTok and YouTube – the two most popular social platforms among children under 13 – have had to introduce measures to stop predators and abusers on their video platforms.

According to CyberSafeKids’ figures, 61pc of children say that they have been contacted by a stranger in an online game.

And one in three pre-teens play online with people they do not know, an annual rise of 16pc.

In total, online gaming is played by 80pc of eight to 12-year-olds, according to the research.

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

TikTok is by far the most popular platform for video sharing among young children, with 80pc of those uploading videos using the Chinese platform.

Last month, TikTok and Google introduced new safety controls to stop kids sharing videos of themselves, or receiving direct message requests from strangers related to their videos.

YouTube has previously acknowledged that “predatory behaviour” from paedophiles targeting kids with coded comments has been a problem for the Google-owned platform.

The CyberSafeKids research shows that almost two thirds of teachers are now having to deal with online safety incidents like cyber bullying in classrooms, and that 79pc of teachers think online safety is a “significant” issue in their school.

“There’s nobody really policing this or enforcing minimum age controls,” said Nicola Fay, the principal of St Brigid’s National School in Castleknock, which has 900 pupils.

“An eight-year-old posting videos of themselves online may not be fully aware of what can go wrong, especially if they’re identifiable through their school uniform or the crest of a club badge in the background.”

Ms Fay also described the delay in bringing in an online safety commissioner as “concerning”.

“It really should be top of the government’s agenda,” she told the Irish Independent.

The survey also asked children if they had seen something online that they would not want their parents to know about, with 22pc replying that they had.

A quarter of the pre-teen children say they have come across content online that “upset” or “scared” them.

Of children exposed to disturbing content, almost a third say they kept it to themselves. That is double last year’s figure.

While most children say that they talk to parents about their online activities, almost a third in the survey said that they could “go online whenever I want” and 13pc said that there are “no rules”.

”In a year of Covid-19 lockdowns we are seeing huge numbers of pre-teens owning devices and being active online,” said Alex Cooney, CEO of CyberSafeKids.

“Unfortunately, a significant number of children are having negative experiences, including 29pc of children reporting at least one bullying experience.”

Ms Cooney called on the government to give the proposed online safety commissioner new impetus.

The commissioner should have “greater powers over content that has caused them harm and provide a stronger incentive to social media and gaming platforms to remove such content quickly and efficiently”, she said.

Other results from the survey show that 28pc of children under 13 with social media or instant messaging accounts have friends or followers they don’t know offline. And 17pc of young children play over-18s games.

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