The report which was spearheaded by the Centre for Research in Educational Underachievement (CREU), Stranmillis University College and the Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland, provides evidence and insights into the online experiences of children in Northern Ireland. It examines how children engage with the internet, the risks they face, and measures to ensure their safety online.
A testament to the research team was the number of young people surveyed, a total of 6,600 children between 8-18 years old completed the questionnaire and is one of the largest sample sizes at Stranmillis in recent years.
One of the key insights that struck me personally was the level of positive experiences of growing up online. Children were accessing the internet to assist their studies, learn new languages and skills as well as socialise and foster a support network. I enjoyed the presentation from Professor Noel Purdy which was clearly balanced and did not solely focus on the negative. The negativity bias is when bad experiences affects our feelings and thoughts more than good ones do and when it comes to online safety I have rarely seen an spotlight on the positives of devices and the internet.
Growing Up Online revealed a difference in how our children perceive their parents' level of interest in their online activities, which they perceive as low! This contrasted to the parents who participated in the focus groups who expressed genuine worries and concerns. For example, only 17% of 8-13 year olds and a mere 8% of 14-18 year olds felt that their parents were ‘very interested’ in their online activities. On the other hand, 20% of 8-13 year olds and 34% of 14-18 year olds believed that their parents showed absolutely no interest at all in what they did online. Unsurprisingly as children got older it appears that parents become less vigilant or concerned about online activities.
This study highlighted that approximately 1 in 5 children in Northern Ireland, (specifically 20% of 8-13 year olds and 18% of 14-18 year olds), have encountered negative or unpleasant online experiences recently. These incidents were most frequently reported on social media applications. While 1 in 5 is still too many in my view it was less that I might have guessed, however potentially their tolerance and sensitivity to harm is reduced given the incredible amount of time spent online. There is an entire section in the research paper on time spent online that is fascinating, but members of NEU will be very familiar with exhausted pupils who have stayed up late online on their phones or gaming.
The findings also demonstrate, consistent with previous research, that girls are significantly more prone to encountering unpleasant online experiences, both in the younger group (23% for girls compared to 17% for boys) and the older group (20% for girls compared to 15% for boys).
Girls were more prone to experiencing hurtful comments or the spread of rumours about them. Among girls aged 14-18, over 5% mentioned being requested to share nude photos, videos, or expose themselves online, a rate three times higher than that reported by boys. Additionally, more than 5% of 14-18-year-old girls reported encountering or receiving pornography, with twice as many girls as boys receiving unsolicited "inappropriate photos." Girls also outnumbered boys in reporting the receipt of content promoting suicide, eating disorders, and self-harm.
An executive summary can be read here and aims to shed light on the digital experiences of children in Northern Ireland, focusing on both the positive aspects of online engagement and the challenges they face. It likely provides valuable insights and recommendations to promote safer online environments for children.