Lockdown will lead to 1.4 million more children livestreaming, with one in five chatting to strangers online

  • One in ten 7-17 year olds claim they are now free to do what they want online as parents struggle to juggle working from home, parenting and home schooling
  • On average children livestream to an audience three times a week. One in five (21%) of these admit they chat to strangers online – equating to 680,000 children
  • Children as young as seven are now spending almost three hours a week on average broadcasting live videos of themselves
  • A tenth of livestreamers switch off parental controls. Alarmingly, a further tenth claim to have met offline with strangers who have contacted them whilst livestreaming
  • Whilst a large proportion of 7-10 year olds never livestream, one in five plan to start now schools are closed
  • Almost three out of four (73%) children have a camera enabled device in their bedroom which could pose a serious risk

New research, commissioned as part of Zurich’s Safer Schools initiative and led by online child protection experts Ineqe Safeguarding Group, shows a 17% rise in livestreaming amongst children since schools have closed with more than one in five ‘broadcasters’ now chatting to strangers online. Research also shows that young people who livestream are twice as likely as their peers to engage in potentially dangerous online behaviour. Livestreaming, which involves broadcasting live video over the internet, is one of the riskiest activities for children online as this type of broadcast is public, can expose children to inappropriate content and is extremely difficult to moderate.

The research shows children as young as seven are now spending almost three hours a week on average broadcasting live videos of themselves, with 15% livestreaming themselves at least once a week. Two fifths (40%) of children livestream to an audience of strangers but this is set to increase over the coming weeks with almost a fifth planning to start now that schools are closed. The most popular livestreaming apps include Instagram Live, Facebook Live, HouseParty, YouTube and Twitch.

The increase in this trend can be attributed to the pressure of performing live to an anonymous audience. However, it also encourages children to do things they wouldn’t normally do in other circumstances because they are ‘in the moment.’

What are livestreamers broadcasting?

When livestreamers were asked about their current online activity, one in five (21%) children admit they chat to people online that they don’t know, one in 10 (11%) have switched off parental controls and 7% have shared their mobile number with a stranger online. Most alarmingly, almost one in ten (7%) have met face to face with a stranger they met whilst livestreaming. In fact, more than one in 10 (11%) say they are more likely to agree to do something when livestreaming as they have less time to think. A further tenth feel the pressure to perform and make their audience happy.

Girls versus boys

Among all those aged 7-17, girls are more likely to have a camera-enabled device of their own with internet access in their bedroom with one in 10 (11%) experiencing lower inhibitions online. While one in three (34%) livestreaming girls have live chats with others online, close to one in 10 (8%) broadcast live from their bedroom and 3% change clothes and pose in front of the camera. Boys, on the other hand, are more likely to be gaming while livestreaming and twice as likely as girls to say they are likely to trust someone they have played an online game with.

Tilden Watson, Head of Education at Zurich Municipal said: “This is a really challenging time for parents as they struggle to balance work and childcare duties on top of home schooling. It’s to be expected that children will probably spend a lot more time on devices. That’s why it’s crucial to sit down together and chat through the risks. We know around a tenth of children normally chat to strangers online but this trend doubles amongst livestreamers. The ‘stranger danger’ that they are familiar with in their offline life is still very relevant in the online space. Setting up parental controls on devices is crucial – now more than ever. Talking about the dangers or inviting strangers into your bedroom, albeit virtually, is so important from a young age.”

Jim Gamble, online safeguarding expert and the force behind the Safer Schools app said: “Whilst everyone is locked down in their homes, there may be a tendency to think that our children and young people are somehow safer, simply because we know exactly where they are. However, the truth is they might not be.

“Children will be spending more time online than ever before. They may be tempted to join groups, share intimate images and participate in livestreaming activity as they attempt to build their own online audience. These audiences will undoubtedly include their real friends, friends of their friends who they don’t really know and complete strangers.
“I don’t want to scaremonger or create the impression there is a predator waiting in every virtual space, but the current reality is unprecedented. We can’t ignore the fact that sex offenders are also sitting at home and most will access the internet. Only by educating and empowering young people, can we begin to protect them from harm. In order to do that we need to practice what we preach and educate ourselves.”

Safeguarding schools is at the heart of what we do

The Safer Schools App was launched by Zurich Municipal and online safeguarding experts, Safeguarding Group in 2018. Since then, it has been rolled out across thousands of state schools in the UK. The App combines the expertise of a range of safeguarding professionals to provide staff, parents and carers with greater understanding of the digital space, trends and emerging risks as well as education about frequently used online language, social media buzzwords and credible video content.

The Safer Schools App offers critical advice regarding image sharing, online bullying and safer gaming. For more information visit: https://www.zurich.co.uk/en/campaigns/safer-schools