A new survey of parents, by Virgin Media O2 and Internet Matters, reveals almost a quarter (24 percent) admit they are not as aware as they would like to be about how their children are spending their time online.

The poll of UK parents ahead of Safer Internet Day (6 February), with children aged 6-16, found over three quarters (75 percent) were “extremely” or “reasonably” concerned about their child’s safety online.

And while platforms like YouTube (73 percent), WhatsApp (61 percent), TikTok (50 percent) and Snapchat (41 percent) were recognised as sites used by their children, only one in twenty (5 percent) parents were aware their children could be using popular anonymous chat sites.

In fact, more than 4 in 10 (42 percent) had no idea if their children are using anonymous sites where they could see and be sent unsolicited images and video from complete strangers.

And almost a third of unaware how anonymous apps or site work either.

And despite being from a tech-savvy generation, more than a quarter (26 percent) of younger parents aged between 18-29 didn’t know their kids could live video chat with anyone, while a third were unaware their children could view explicit or violent content – the highest result of parents surveyed.

More than one in ten (12 percent) British parents have discovered their children have seen, or been sent unsolicited images or videos, while a further 16 percent suspect they have. And almost a fifth (19%) say their kids have been exposed to fake news, with 13% having watched videos which promote dangerous stunts or challenges, while 12% have viewed hate speech while using an anonymous app or virtual chat room.

A further four in ten (39 percent) are worried their child may have taken inappropriate images of themselves and shared them online.

Of those parents who are aware their children have received explicit images, 28 percent only discovered them when looking through their child’s phone, while 26 percent had discovered explicit images on a shared family cloud.

Almost a quarter (23 percent) had been informed that their child had been sent inappropriate images via another adult.

Worryingly, 39 percent said images or video they had become aware of, had been sent by an adult stranger, while 39 percent said they had come from someone their own age.

More than one in ten (11 percent) said explicit images via social media and chatrooms were a weekly occurrence, while 8 percent said it happened as often as daily.

Dana Haidan from Virgin Media O2 said: “The internet is a great place for children to game, study, and connect with friends online, but we know parents want more help on having open and confident conversations with young people so they can use websites and apps safely.

“Ahead of Safer Internet Day, we’d encourage adults to visit Internet Matters’ website to get advice on speaking to their children and teens about the online world, how to use apps and sites without disclosing their personal information, and the tools and setting they can use to protect their children from viewing explicit content or accessing inappropriate websites or apps.”

When asked what other concerns they have about their children’s time online, bullying was parents biggest worry (27 percent), being groomed online (26 percent), fake news (23 percent), exposure to hate speech (19 percent) and being scammed (19 percent) also made the list of online dangers.

Overall, 92 percent of the parents quizzed say they have sat their child down and spoken to them about the dangers and staying safe online.

70 percent have altered the settings on their child’s phone to limit what types of material can be accessed.

But only 42 per cent have told their kids not to disclose their personal information such as their name, where they live or to send images or use live chat wearing their school uniform.

16 percent said they would not know what to do if their child told them they had seen images online which had made them uncomfortable, and more than half of parents (56%) says they want more help knowing what tools or controls to use to keep their kids safe online.

Carolyn Bunting MBE, Co-CEO at Internet Matters says: “The lure of anonymity can be appealing to children, as it can remove the anxiety of presenting your ‘best-self’ online or allow people to ask questions that may be sensitive or embarrassing. However, it can also expose children to a range of online risks, including inappropriate content, cyberbullying, and sexting. It’s important that parents take an active interest in their children’s online life by having regular conversations and ensuring that devices are set up safely using parental controls and privacy settings.”

Online safety experts, Internet Matters offered these tips for parents:

  • Talk to your child about their app usage: It’s important to know what your children are doing on their devices, so speak to your child regularly about which apps their using and who they are speaking to.
  • Review apps on their devices: Check age ratings of any apps you’re not familiar with. It’s a good idea to use app store settings to only show age-appropriate apps for apps. Similarly, setting up apps like Google Family Link, allow you to approve or block apps your child wants to download. For any apps that are downloaded, review the privacy settings to make sure they are in control of how their information is used, who can see their account and what they share.
  • Don’t be afraid to set some rules on app use: Children seek out norms to follow so it’s important to sit together and set some boundaries on the types of apps they can and can’t download. This will help them understand your concerns and why it is beneficial for them to use certain apps and not others.
  • Explain the risks: Help your child to understand the impact these anonymous apps can have on their digital wellbeing, and that what they say online to another person can have real-life consequences. Ensure they are aware of community guidelines and reporting functions on the app to flag anything that upsets them.
  • Help them think before they post: Although anonymous apps may hide your identity to some extent there are certain pieces of information that can identify you like an IP address or even an item of clothing (like a school uniform). It’s important to advise children not to say or share something they wouldn’t want to be shared publicly.
  • Be supportive: If your child is being cyberbullied be calm and considered, listen to their concerns and offer your parental support. Don’t deal with it alone, talk to friends and if necessary, your child’s school who will have an anti-bullying policy. 

Internetmatters.org includes step-by-step guides for setting up the right controls for a range of platforms, as well as tools and advice for parents wanting to have a conversation with their child about their online life.

Journalists can contact the Virgin Media O2 press office on:
press@virginmediao2.co.uk 01753 565656
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