Online safety among younger children improving in Suffolk, but support must be sustained

Published

This year’s annual Cybersurvey results show that more parents are delivering messages of online safety to their children from a young age.

The survey, now in its tenth year, shows that parental influence is having an impact on risk-taking behaviour, with 62% of children (up from 57% in 2016) saying they always listen to their parent/carers advice and 80% taught about online safety at school.  

Since last year we have seen:

  • 4% reduction in young people using chatrooms (17% less than 4 years ago) 
  • 2% reduction in young people meeting up with someone they knew only online

Suffolk has previously seen a three-year downward trend in nearly all forms of online risk-taking behaviour across all ages in the county. There has been minimal change in the rates of risks encountered between 2016 and 2017 in the total sample, however among 15 year olds we are seeing increases in risk-taking behaviour. This reflects national research which has shown that age is the key factor that determines children’s online experiences.

Since last year we have seen:

  • 9% increase in 15 year olds visiting pro-anorexia sites (from 35% to 44%)
  • 13% increase in 15 year olds visiting self-harm promoting sites (from 16% to 29%)
  • 8% increase in 15 year olds sexting (from 11% to 17%)

The results show a clear drop in parental input for children 15 years and over, which correlates with the increase in risk taking behaviour. This reflects that early intervention is working, but this support needs to be sustained throughout the teenage years.

The Cybersurvey research has shown that a user can encounter risk in under half an hour online, so time spent, or ‘screen time’ is not the only indicator of risk. Age, context, gender, vulnerability, emotional health and the content viewed online are all factors that contribute to their online experiences and their ability to be cope with what they encounter on the internet and in social media.

Councillor Gordon Jones, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, Education and Skills, said:

“The results show that parental influence has a huge impact on a child’s online behaviour. The fact that more parents and carers are having conversations early with their child, is making a real difference in Suffolk.

“I would urge parents and schools to continue to re-enforce messages of online safety with children from a young age and vitally, sustain this support through their teen years. It is also important to keep a close eye on what children are viewing online as well as the length of time they spend.

“Suffolk County Council is striving to increase awareness about keeping children safe online. We will continue to work closely with parents, education settings, and other partner organisations to improve online safety in the county.”

Read the Suffolk Cybersurvey at www.esafersuffolk.org.

The results released today coincide with National Safer Internet Day. To find out more or to register as a supporter visit: https://www.saferinternet.org.uk/.