A major new study commissioned by McAfee and the Anti-Bullying Alliance, part of leading children’s charity the National Children’s Bureau, reveals that most children’s internet use takes place away from the watchful eye of a parent and is still prone to cruel and abusive behaviours. Worse still, research suggests that some parents may be unintentionally exposing their children to inappropriate behaviour and cyber-bullying through lack of controls and by setting up children’s access to social networks.
The research, published today to mark the launch of national Anti-Bullying Week, found that cyber-bullying behaviours are commonplace, with 16% having been the recipients of mean or cruel behaviour online and 22% having witnessed the same behaviours directed at a classmate or friend.
Findings showed that children and teens are prolific users of the internet; with 26% spending between 4-6 hours or more online every day with much of that internet use taking place away from the watchful eye of a parent; 53% of children go online in their own room, 46% on a games console and 66% on a personal smartphone. In addition, nearly one in five (19%) of teens admit to lying to their parents about what they’ve been doing online.
Parents need support
Despite children’s increasing use of the internet and the ease and range of mobile devices they use to access it, a third of parents (32%) admit to not having had any conversation with their children about online safety. Only 17% of children believe that there are parental controls on the home computer, and less than one in five (19%) parents has set parental controls across all internet-accessible devices at home including mobile devices.
With almost half (46%) of parents having set up their child’s social networking site and 45% of parents with children under the age of 13 having set up a Facebook account for their child, despite the age restriction, parents may be unintentionally enabling their children’s online behaviours. The findings revealed that some parents actually disagree with current social media site age restrictions; with nearly one in eight (11%) claiming that current age restrictions are too limiting and that younger children should be able to join social networks. Where restrictions are in place, over one in eight children (13%) has lied about their age to get around them.
The truth about cyber-bullying
The research also suggested that children need help to better understand what is and isn’t appropriate behaviour online, with many of them unaware of what constitutes cyber-bullying. Only 23% of those who had directed a comment with cruel or abusive language to someone online considered it ‘mean’ to the person it was directed at, and just 9% consider that behaviour to be cyber-bullying. In addition, 15% said that if someone was upset by a mean comment they had directed at them online, they would think they were ‘over-reacting’, with a quarter (24%) saying they would be ‘shocked’ to have their comments perceived as cruel; displaying a real need for education about what online bullying actually is.
Just one in ten (11%) parents believes that their children are safe online, with almost half (45%) stating that online bullying is a major concern for them. Worryingly, 38% of parents think that their children may have been bullied online (with 9% stating that they know this for certain) and 33% believe that their children may be the bullies themselves (6% have been made aware that their child has been a bully).
The need for education
With today’s teens being the first generation to grow up immersed in a cyber-world, it is clear that parents require more support to help them to keep up with rapidly changing technology and to understand how they can keep their children safe online. More than half (53%) of parents put the onus on education, saying that knowing their child is learning about e-safety in school would make them feel better equipped to help keep their child stay safe online. But nearly a third (32%) of parents admitted that better parental personal knowledge of the internet and social networks would make them feel better equipped to keep their kids safe online, with 1 in 6 (18%) parents saying that that their own knowledge of the internet and social media platforms is not adequate to match the online behaviours of their child.
Raj Samani, online safety expert at McAfee, comments on the findings: “As a father myself, it’s worrying that parents are unknowingly enabling their children’s bad behaviour online with nearly half of all parents setting up social profiles, despite a third admitting to not having discussed online safety and even fewer having installed parental controls across all devices. This is alarming as setting up these social profiles without installing parental controls or even having conversations about how to stay safe online, means children are ill-prepared to understand and deal with online issues such as cyber-bullying.
“This research shows that for many parents a lack of understanding and knowledge around online safety is causing real problems. At McAfee we’re already working hard to make sure that the internet is as safe for kids as possible through our security solutions, but this research highlights the need to better educate parents as well so they can put the right measures in place at home. Parents need to feel empowered to be able to set the right security and privacy settings for their family – across all devices – and to have the right conversations with their kids about what is and isn’t suitable behaviour online. Working with the Anti-Bullying Alliance we hope to give parents the tools and knowledge they need to keep their children as safe and happy as possible online.”
Luke Roberts, National Coordinator of the Anti-Bullying Alliance, said: “Cyber-bullying is increasingly an accepted part of online-culture. We know that young people are struggling to understand what is appropriate online behavior and how to keep safe, and that parents are struggling to know how best to protect their children from potentially harmful online experiences. As adults we need to teach children and young people digital skills and set boundaries so they are able realize the huge benefits and opportunities that the internet offers in terms of accessing information and making friends, but also ensures that they are safe and free from being bullied both online and offline.
“Currently there is no clear leadership, no co-ordination and no adequate educational model in place to tackle the growing issue of cyber-bullying. The Anti-Bullying Alliance are calling for a national debate on children and young people’s use of the internet and their online safety in the 21st Century, focusing specifically on cyber-bullying, which will bring together children, parents, industry, providers, NGOs, government, and educators.
“We need to make cyber-bullying a thing of the past and ensure a digital future for our children that is safe, fun and connected; where children take responsibility for their own safety online, but more importantly know where to turn for help when things go wrong.”
To help parents and children, McAfee and the Anti-Bullying Alliance have published an online paper: ‘Digital Deception: The Online Behaviour of Teens’, which aims to reveal the truth of cyber-bullying and other internet safety issues and give parents and children the tools they need to better protect themselves and their family. The paper can be downloaded from Monday 18th November from http://www.anti-bullyingalliance.org.uk/ and is accompanied by a series of online videos.