Ninety-nine percent of children aged 12-15 use the internet, as do 93% of 8-11 year olds and 75% of 5-7 year olds. New media technology means that the ways in which children are accessing online content are changing and ever evolving. Policy makers need research evidence to inform policies that articulate children’s online risks, safeguard them from harm and promote their welfare.
The Child Wellbeing Research Centre was commissioned by the Department for Education, working closely with the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) to explore what is currently known about children’s vulnerability to harm from online activity or interactions.
This scoping review explores levels of intended and unintended exposure to specific risks, the impact of harm suffered by children, and the characteristics of children who may be at highest risk.
• Between 8-34% of children and young people in the UK have been cyberbullied
• 30% of a large sample of secondary school pupils in England have been deliberately targeted, threatened or humiliated by the use of mobile phones or the internet
• Girls are twice as likely to experience persistent cyberbullying than boys
• Vulnerable groups at greater risk include children with special educational needs (SEN), children in receipt of free school meals (FSM), children from Black and minority ethnic (BME) groups, children of Gypsy-Roma, Traveller of Irish Heritage,
European and East European groups, children from Chinese groups and children of mixed ethnicity
• Exposure to cyberbullying results in significant levels of distress and stress with the highest levels reported in children aged 9-12
• Cyberbullying evokes stronger negative feelings, fear and a sense of helplessness than offline bullying and is linked to school failure, depression, anxiety and psychological problems
• The impersonal nature of online communication means that not all perpetrators intend to cause distress
Meeting online contacts offline, sexual solicitation and grooming
• A large US survey shows that one in 10 children and young people receive sexual solicitations of a distressing or aggressive nature
UKCCIS brings together government, industry and charities to work in partnership to keep children and young people safe online by creating a safer online environment, improving online safety education and raising public awareness of how to enjoy the internet safely.
• US chat room users are four times more likely to receive unwanted sexual solicitations than other groups of children and young people
• UK chat rooms are mostly used by lower socio-economic groups and older teenagers
• 69% of online sexual solicitations involve no attempt at offline contact
• Offenders rarely pretend to be teenagers or deceive victims about their sexual interest; most victims who meet offenders expect to engage in sexual activity
• Young people may be more vulnerable in early adolescence as they become more sexually curious and experimental
• Young people defined as sensation seekers are four times more likely to have met someone offline following online contact
• Victim typologies do not conform to any specific stereotypical assumptions of vulnerability; victims are a heterogeneous group with a range of characteristics
• Some victims of grooming would not be perceived as vulnerable offline
• Understanding the interaction between the offender, online environment and young person is essential to understanding the nature of online grooming, particularly the role of disinhibition.
Pornography and other harmful content
• A US survey reported 42% young people aged 10-17 being exposed to online pornography in a one-year period; 66% of this exposure was unwanted
• 11% of 9-16 year olds reported exposure to pornography in the UK; 24% of these children and young people were not bothered or upset by the experience
• rates of ‘unwanted’ exposure to pornography are higher amongst teenagers, young people who report being harassed or sexually solicited online or victimised offline, and those who are borderline or clinically depressed
• ‘Wanted’ exposure rates were higher for teenagers, those who talked online to unknown persons about sex, used the internet at friends’ homes, or appeared to have a significant level of rule breaking behaviour
• There is a lack of adequate research on the impact that unwanted or unexpected exposure to pornography has on children and young people
• Seeing violent or hateful content was the third most common risk to young people
• Gaps in the evidence base include research on hateful or racist content, sites promoting self-harm, anorexia or suicide
The full report can be found at