Parents are concerned about the increased risks of online harm, with almost a quarter (24%) admitting they are not as aware as they would like to be about how their children are spending their screen time.
While YouTube, WhatsApp, TikTok and Snapchat were recognised by parents, as many as 42% had no idea whether their children are using anonymous chat sites where they can live video chat with anyone, as well as see and be sent unsolicited images and video from complete strangers.
The poll of 2,000 UK parents with children aged 6-16, by Virgin Media O2 and Internet Matters, found three quarters (75%) were "extremely" or "reasonably" concerned about their child’s safety online.
The findings, released ahead of Safer Internet Day (February 6) also revealed that more than one in ten (12%) British parents have discovered their children have seen, or been sent unsolicited images or videos online, while a further 16% suspect they have.
A further four in ten (39%) are worried their child may have taken inappropriate images of themselves and shared them online.
Of those parents who are aware their children have received explicit images, 28% only discovered them when looking through their child’s phone, while 26% had discovered explicit images on a shared family cloud.
Almost a quarter (23%) had been informed that their child had been sent inappropriate images via another adult.
Perhaps even more concerningly, 39% of parents said images or video they had become aware of, had been sent by an adult stranger, while 39% said they had come from someone their child’s own age.
When asked what other concerns they have about their children’s time online, bullying was parents biggest worry (27%), being groomed online (26%), fake news (23%), exposure to hate speech (19%) and being scammed (19%) also made the list of online dangers.
Despite their concerns it seems parents are feeling somewhat confused about talking to their children about cyber-safety.
While 92% of the parents quizzed say they have spoken to their children about the dangers and staying safe online and 70% have altered the settings on their child’s phone to limit what types of material can be accessed, only 42% have told their kids not to disclose their personal information such as their name, where they live or send images wearing their school uniform.
Worryingly, 16% said they would not know what to do if their child told them they had seen images online which had made them uncomfortable, and more than half of parents (56%) say they want more help knowing what tools or controls to use to keep their kids safe online.
Commenting on the findings Carolyn Bunting MBE, Co-CEO at Internet Matters says: “The lure of anonymity can be appealing to children, as it can remove the anxiety of presenting your ‘best-self’ online or allow people to ask questions that may be sensitive or embarrassing.
“However, it can also expose children to a range of online risks, including inappropriate content, cyberbullying, and sexting. It’s important that parents take an active interest in their children’s online life by having regular conversations and ensuring that devices are set up safely using parental controls and privacy settings.”
How to help keep children safe online
For those parents who do want to open the discussion about staying safe in the cyber world the experts at Internet Matters have offered these tips:
Talk to your child about their app usage: It’s important to know what your children are doing on their devices, so speak to your child regularly about which apps they’re using and who they are speaking to.
Review apps on their devices: Check age ratings of any apps you’re not familiar with. It’s a good idea to use app store settings to only show age-appropriate apps for apps. Similarly, setting up apps like Google Family Link, allowing you to approve or block apps your child wants to download. For any apps that are downloaded, review the privacy settings to make sure they are in control of how their information is used, who can see their account and what they share.
Don’t be afraid to set some rules on app use: Children seek out norms to follow so it’s important to sit together and set some boundaries on the types of apps they can and can’t download. This will help them understand your concerns and why it is beneficial for them to use certain apps and not others.
Explain the risks: Help your child to understand the impact these anonymous apps can have on their digital wellbeing, and that what they say online to another person can have real-life consequences. Ensure they are aware of community guidelines and reporting functions on the app to flag anything that upsets them.
Help them think before they post: Although anonymous apps may hide your identity to some extent there are certain pieces of information that can identify you like an IP address or even an item of clothing (like a school uniform). It’s important to advise children not to say or share something they wouldn’t want to be shared publicly.
Be supportive: If your child is being cyberbullied be calm and considered, listen to their concerns and offer your parental support. Don’t deal with it alone, talk to friends and if necessary, your child’s school who will have an anti-bullying policy.
Parenting: Read more
‘I felt rage. I had traded my sanity for milk’: what happened when I breastfed despite the pain (The Guardian, 5-min read)
The tricky politics of naming a baby – and where Harry and Meghan went wrong (The Telegraphy, 4-min read)
Why do I have to justify my decision not to have children? (Yahoo Life UK, 8-min read)