Almost nine out of ten children admit to lying about their age to access social media or gaming sites

  • Children as young as seven are pretending they are older to get around age restrictions
  • 12% of children chat to strangers online
  • Here are some tips to minimise the risk to children online

New research[1] by Zurich’s Safer Schools initiative reveals almost nine out of ten children admit to lying about their age to access social media and gaming sites as there are no age verifications in place.

While tech offers a great way to stay connected with friends, uncontrolled access to apps and websites can put children at risk of contact from adult strangers and exposed to inappropriate, violent or pornographic content.  More than two fifths of children claim to have viewed inappropriate material and 12% have been scared by someone’s behaviour online since lockdown began.

Tilden Watson, Head of Education at Zurich Municipal said: “Unsurprisingly, during lockdown we’ve seen a huge rise in both the number of children using tech, and the duration they are using it for. With more free time on their hands, our research suggests many are lying about their age to access social media and gaming sites. Access to these sites relies completely on trust rather than a robust verification process.”

Additional findings from the post lockdown research[1] commissioned as part of Zurich’s Safer Schools initiative and led by online child protection experts Ineqe Safeguarding Group:

  • Children as young as seven are pretending they are older to get around age restrictions – with the average child adding five years to their actual age.
  • 12% of children chat to strangers online and one in three (32%) have had to block someone – this increases to 42% among children aged 12 and older.
  • 43% of children are viewing inappropriate content, and one in 14 (7%) have seen or heard racist or homophobic behaviour.
  • More than one in 10 (12%) children say they have been scared by someone’s behaviour online – rising to 15% of 16 year olds.

However, the issue of age verification is an industry-wide issue as many sites have similar age restrictions, but no verification process at the point of account set up.

Tips for parents and carers to minimise the risk to children online:

  1. Make your home safer – ensure you are using the best possible settings provided by your Internet service provider. You can access these by searching for them by name and adding the phrase, safety settings e.g. BT safety settings
  2. Make sure all the devices you use have the most appropriate safety settings. Visit https://oursafetycentre.co.uk/ to check.
  3. Talk: Talking is the most important tool in a parent or carers child protection tool kit.
    Ensure your child knows they can always talk to you. Let them know we all make mistakes and that whatever happens, you will always be there for them. In fact, reinforce that if they feel they can’t speak to anyone else, they can always talk to childline (they can do this online).
  4. Before talking to them about any concerns you have about social media, apps or live streaming in general – do your homework. Research the issue yourself so you have at least a basic knowledge.
  5. Don’t start by asking ‘have you tried this’ but rather ‘have you heard about this’ and allow them to show off their knowledge. Use this engagement to have a conversation about staying safe and work together to apply safety settings. This is also a good opportunity to agree on boundaries e.g. no devices in bedrooms.
  6. Parents and Carers should report any concerns of grooming, sexual abuse and or sextortion to the local police or CEOP.

 

1. Research was conducted by Censuswide between 23th-24th March 2020 among 2,012 respondents aged 7-17.