Over a third of children in the UK have experienced harassment on Roblox (34%) and YouTube (34%), while 25% have experienced harassment on TikTok and 15% on Facebook.
With children’s internet usage at an all-time high, an ExpressVPN study polled 2,000 children aged 4 to 13 in the US and UK who have access to the internet, as well as their parents or guardians (over 2,000 adults), to understand the extent of risk when using online services.
The research found that the majority of UK parents are concerned about their children’s online safety—with 62% of adult respondents citing fears about cyberbullying. This was followed by concerns about online predators (61%) and inappropriate content (39%).
Despite 92% of parents admitting that they monitor their children’s activity online regularly, when asked about what they actually experience on the internet, 30% of UK child respondents said they encountered someone being rude or swearing online, while 27% reported seeing scary videos and 21% scary images.
Confirming parents’ fears,17% of children admitted to being bullied online. Belfast was revealed to be the city with the biggest online bullying problem, with 37% of children from the region saying they’d been bullied online. Manchester and Brighton came in second place (24%), and Edinburgh third (22%).
More worryingly, 13% of British children surveyed have had a stranger ask which school they go to, and 9% have been asked for their home address.
The survey also found that while only about a quarter of parents surveyed say that they allow their 4- to 13-year-olds to have a social media account, over half of their children admitted to using social media.
“It’s undeniably alarming how many children are experiencing bullying, inappropriate content, and harassment online. Parents often do everything they can to protect their children from this experience. Still, it’s not as simple as putting parental controls on their devices and banning technology altogether isn’t a reasonable option,” said Lauren Hendry Parsons, Privacy Advocate, ExpressVPN. “Children today are digital natives. They are growing up around technology and using it well is a critical tool for life and learning in today’s society. As a result, kids can be more tech-savvy than their parents, evading parental controls on their devices or finding other ways to access digital services their friends are also using.
“For parents in 2023, the number one tool in your protection arsenal is education together with a strong foundation of trust. It’s education on how they can be a responsible digital citizen, why it’s important to be open and honest about what they see or experience online, and how they can use the internet safely.
“But this isn’t always an easy conversation to have, especially in teenage years, so recruit the power of a cool aunt or uncle to help have these conversations too. If your child can be empowered with age-appropriate knowledge about digital risks from multiple sources, they will become more comfortable with having open conversations about it and better equipped to deal with situations that arise,” said Hendry Parsons.