There is a sizeable gap to close between what parents and carers think about their child’s online experiences and the reality, according to this survey from Traci Good.

Context
Hi, my name is Traci Good. I run a peer-led digital leaders programme in primary schools. We take a positive look at the online environment and give children and young people the skills and knowledge that they need to be able to navigate this space in a careful and considered way. As part of the programme, we run an annual survey. This year, we decided to include parents and carers too and the results were quite interesting, so I thought I would share some of these with you.

Whilst I expected there to be a gap between what parents know and what children tell us, I really wasn’t prepared for the size of that gap! We had 6,025 children who responded to the survey and 1,796 parents and carers. Both groups were asked similar questions but phrased in a slightly different way.

Findings

Question 1: Has someone you don’t know ever tried to make contact with your child online?

Parents: Has someone you don’t know ever tried to make contact with your child online?

  • Yes 9% 9%
  • No 91% 91%

Children: Has someone you don’t know ever tried to make contact with you online?

  • Yes 37% 37%
  • No 63% 63%

Only 9% of parents said this had happened, but when we asked children the same question, we found that 37% of children and young people said yes, someone that they don’t know had tried to make contact with them online. We completed further work in the classroom and found that most contact was within the gaming environment, typically using platforms such as Roblox, Minecraft and Fortnite. Whilst most of these ‘strangers’ are more than likely other young people, we do know that some of our children and young people will be talking to adults masquerading as children. We completed some more work around what information is safe to share when gaming, and the importance of keeping your personal information private.

We also asked children why they don’t tell their parents that they’ve been approached online.

There were two resounding responses:
• Firstly, children said that they would get into trouble for talking to people they don’t know.
• Secondly, children felt that if they did tell parents or carers, their devices may be removed to ‘keep them safe.’

This one simple question has thrown up a huge piece of work around parental engagement, parental understanding, and the confidence that children have in their parents to be able to deal with online safety issues appropriately or fairly. There is much work to do here and, without doubt, trying to engage parents on this topic is tricky at the best of times.

Question 2: Has your child ever received nasty comments or received horrible content online?

Parents: Have they ever received nasty comments or received horrible content online?

  • Yes 9% 9%
  • No 91% 91%

Children: Have you ever received nasty comments or received horrible content online?

  • Yes 32% 32%
  • No 68% 68%

Again, there was a huge gap between what children said and what parents think. 9 percent of parents and carers said that yes, this has happened to their child, but when we asked children, this rose to 32%.

Question 3: Have you ever seen anything that makes you feel sad scared or worried online and, if so, would you like to share what it is? 

In this section, we received hundreds of comments from children and young people, typically around online bullying, animal abuse, viewing of pornography, inappropriate contact with unknown individuals, and young people being told that they should die or kill themselves.

Once more, we raised this in the classroom, and young people felt that if they told their parents someone was being mean or bullying them, their devices would be removed. We know that for a lot of children and young people, reliance on their devices is an integral part of growing up. This is the way they stay in contact with friends and family and keep up to date with everything that’s going on around them – to have that removed would be unbearable for them.

Whilst children are experiencing hurtful and harmful content online and not sharing that with the adults around them to help make sense of it all, it is having a huge impact on their mental health and wellbeing.

Question 4: Does your child take devices to bed?

Parents: My child takes a device (phone, tablet) to bed

  • Yes 14% 14%
  • No 85% 85%
  • Not sure 1% 1%

Children: I sometimes go online when I should be asleep

  • Yes 30% 30%
  • No 62% 62%
  • Not sure 8% 8%

The last statistic I would like to share with you is around taking devices to bed. One of the things that I deal with regularly in primary schools are large WhatsApp groups and large Snapchat chat groups. Many children describe these groups as ‘toxic groups,’ with mean messages and inappropriate content. More importantly, they explain they are a ‘safe space’ that parents don’t explore, so it often feels like ‘anything goes.’

When we discussed this further in the classroom, I asked, “How many of you are in a WhatsApp group that you wish you weren’t in?” Sadly, the majority of children raised their hands. Many children also reported receiving phone calls and video calls during the night. This leads to broken sleep and children who are tired in the morning, tired in school, and not able to learn as they should.

85% of parents said no, their child does not take a device to bed, 14% said yes and 1% said not sure. We phrased this question to children and young people in a slightly different way and asked, “Do you ever go online when you should be asleep?” 62% of children and young people said no they never go online when they should be asleep, 30% said yes, and 8% said they were unsure.

So what next?

We need to put the spotlight on online safety with parents and carers, and the relationships they have with their children. We need to give adults the tools to deal with problems that their children may encounter online and give children the confidence that their parents will be able to deal with any issues confidently and fairly.

As a result of the findings in the survey, we have changed all the tasks for this year’s programme. Every single task now links with home, so we have children and young people opening conversations and talking to their parents about the issues they face, and how their parents can best support them. We have learned some valuable lessons from the data we have gathered, and each of the schools that have taken part in the survey have received all of their own data with suggestions on which areas they should focus on as part of their statutory educational response. It has been eye-opening, and I can’t wait to see what next year’s survey brings!

References

All statistics taken from the survey of 6,025 children and 1,796 parents from primary schools within the i-vengers programme that Traci runs.

Author

  • Traci Good

    Traci is an online safety consultant, specialising in the education, safeguarding and policing sectors, with a particular interest in supporting vulnerable and SEND students online. She is currently running the i-vengers programme, which is a positive, peer-led, digital leaders programme, jointly funded by the Police and Crime Commissioner for Derbyshire and Derbyshire County Council.
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