Minister Martin launches comprehensive online safety research on internet use by children and adults in Ireland

Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Catherine Martin TD, launched a comprehensive report of a national survey of children and young people, and their parents and carers regarding online safety. The report was commissioned following a recommendation put forward by the National Advisory Council for Online Safety (NACOS) that acknowledged the need for up-to-date research and evidence about the state of online safety in Ireland.

Date 2021-12-06 Author Irish Safer Internet Centre Section awareness, research Topic media literacy/education Audience media specialist, organisations and industry, parents and carers, research, policy and decision makers, teachers, educators and professionals
Cover of the report of the national survey of children, their parents and adults regarding online safety

The research consisted of three nationally representative surveys: one of children, one of their parents, and a separate survey of adults. The objectives of the research were to:

  • determine how adults and children in Ireland use and access the internet, and the level of their digital skills.
  • estimate the prevalence of online risks experienced by internet users.
  • identify opportunities and benefits obtained by using the internet.
  • identify safety practices of adults and children when using the internet.
  • identify how parents and carers mediate in the use of the internet by their children.

Overall, this research provides a clear overview of how people in Ireland, and particularly children, access and use the internet, including their digital literacy and exposure to risks. The research also examines how children and parents work together to deal with online risks.

Some key findings are summarised below.

  • Most children have a positive attitude towards the internet and say there are good elements for their age. 44 per cent say this is ‘very true’ and 39 per cent say it is ‘fairly true’.
  • 62 per cent of children and young people, aged 9 to 17, use social media. This fluctuates between 25 per cent of 9-10-year-olds to nearly 90 per cent of 15-17-year-olds.
  • Users being unpleasant to each other online (24 per cent) and bullying (22 per cent) stand out as the most recurrent issues that upset young people. A quarter of all surveyed girls (26 per cent) listed people being unpleasant to each other as the issue that most frequently upsets them.
  • Children and their parents or carers have different perceptions of children’s experiences. For example, 53 per cent of parents say they help their child when something bothers them on the internet. This contrasts with 19 per cent of children who report telling a parent about issues that have upset them online.
  • 82 per cent of parents or carers say that they would most prefer to receive online safety information from their child’s school, with 60 per cent currently receiving information this way.
  • For adults, being contacted by strangers or someone they don’t know is the most reported problem encountered online. This is reported by 13 per cent of adults overall. 8 per cent of them claim that this happens at least once every month and 3 per cent at least once every week.

Minister Martin, while launching the report in her role as chair of the National Advisory Council for Online Safety, said:

“The pandemic has brought sharp focus to the reality that the internet is a key part of our lives and those of our children. From working, schooling, and creating from home, the internet has enabled us to weather this crisis in ways which surprised us all.

“It has enabled us to maintain communication with our families, friends, workplaces, and instantly, allowing us to live and work remotely for extensive periods.

“However, while the internet has had a broadly positive impact on our society, there are, of course, risks, particularly to children. Some of these risks are extensions of existing offline phenomena, such as bullying. Others represent new challenges, such as image-based abuse.

“This crucial report shines a light on how the people of Ireland, and particularly children, use the internet, the risks they face online, and how they respond to those risks.

“While illuminating both the positive and negative parts of the online world, the risks identified in this report underline the need for regulation, for example the prevalence of cyberbullying, particularly among 13-14-year-olds. The report also highlights the need for a holistic approach to online safety, involving educators, parents, carers and regulators.

“To address this, I am working to progress the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill as a matter of urgency. The Bill will establish a robust Online Safety Commissioner, as part of a wider Media Commission, whose goal will be to tackle the availability of defined categories of harmful online content, including cyberbullying content, through binding online safety codes. The Commissioner will also have a role in producing, coordinating and supporting online safety educational initiatives and research.”

Professor Brian O’Neill, speaking as the Deputy Chair of the National Advisory Council for Online Safety, said:

“This research project has yielded a wealth of data about people’s experiences of being online and will serve as an incredibly useful baseline for further research and evidence gathering on particular online safety issues, especially about children and their experiences.

“The report itself concisely and clearly presents the complex picture of our online lives, both the positive and the negative, and will be a very useful resource for evidence-based policy making going forward."

John Church, Chief Executive of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC), said:

“The publication of this important research gives us valuable insights into how children and young people in Ireland today use the internet and engage online. It is important we understand their specific concerns and behaviours in order to develop fit-for-purpose public policy responses, adequate education provisions and supports.

“The proposed establishment of the Online Safety Commissioner will be an important step in coordinating these desired online safety responses, including that of robust regulation.”

Áine Lynch, CEO of the National Parents Council (NPC), said:

“The wealth of information and insight gained through this research is vital in ensuring that all children engage with their online world in the safest and most enjoyable way possible.

“It is very encouraging to see so many positive ways in which children engage and have positive connections through the internet, however it is concerning that only 19 per cent of children report telling a parent about issues that have upset them online. This data indicates important work that should be prioritised in the future.”

To discover more about the findings of the survey, you can download and read the full report of the national survey of children, their parents and adults regarding online safety.

Find out more about the work of the Irish Safer Internet Centre, including their awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services – or find similar information for Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe.

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