Kids not equipped for coming of digital age at nine

6th February 2014

Kids not equipped for coming of digital age at nine.

Nominet’s The Social Age survey of parents and 8-16 year olds published today finds that whilst children begin exploring the web and trialling social media sites aged nine, less than a third of parents (32%) feel ‘very confident’ about helping their kids to stay safe online.

Facebook tops the list of sites that kids sign up to underage with 52% of 8-16 year olds admitting they had ignored the site’s official age limit. Other sites include WhatsApp (40%), BBM (24%), SnapChat (11%) and (8%). At aged ten, over half (59%) of children have used a social network.

Kids are opening themselves and others up to potential risks, with 21% posting negative comments starting from the average age of 11 and a quarter (26%) hijacking another’s account and posting without permission. Furthermore, 43% have messaged strangers starting from an average age of 12.

A child’s social media development begins aged nine and over the next four year period, their internet activity evolves from simply viewing content online to being active on social media. At nine, children first access YouTube and will use a mobile or laptop. Aged 10, they start using Internet slang (e.g. “BRB”, “YOLO”) and instant messaging.

The greatest proportion of internet activity takes place when children reach 11 years; this is when they are likely to first post an image or video of themselves, post a nasty comment online and set up a fake social media profile. A year later (aged 12), kids will first try Twitter and Whatsapp and message someone online they haven’t met in real life. When children reach 13 – their social maturity – they first try services like SnapChat and Ask FM and will try sexting for the first time.

When children experience difficulties online, two-thirds (67%) turn to their parents. Whilst 63% of parents check their child’s internet activity at least once a week, over a fifth (21%) aren’t confident they could install parental controls, and just under a half (46%) admit to not being confident or aware of the school internet policy.

One mother commented, “You need a basic understanding of what your child is doing to guide them on what’s appropriate and safe. I recently spoke to my 10 year old son after I found out he was chatting to people he didn’t know while playing on Xbox Live. Kids might not realise the risks about giving personal information to strangers.”

“Before helping children to be safe online, parents need to understand what the dangers are, especially as settings change or new trends emerge” comments Nominet’s CEO Lesley Cowley. “It’s good to see that most kids turn to their parents for help, so it’s crucial they’re up to speed on everything from securing their profile to reporting anything inappropriate.”

Nominet also talked to 10–15 year olds who gave parents their own pointers on how best to approach online safety, saying:

  • Trust us – we’re mostly using these services for chatting to friends
  • Talk to us – we could always use some guidance if we forget or don’t know what to do
  • Know the risks – we may not even guess the danger areas, you can help us spot them
  • Find out what we’re up to at school – some are strict, some have more relaxed rules
  • Be mindful – parental controls don’t catch everything if we use mobiles or friends’ machines, which can put us at risk

About the research

Opinium research carried out an online survey to 1,006 parents of children aged 8-16 and 1,004 children aged 8-16 between 17th-24th October 2013 for The Social Age study, investigating the sites, habits and knowledge of both groups. A base of 516 children aged 13 – 16 were asked questions on sexting.

The Social Age Infographic – Click to enlarge

the social age