Nearly a quarter of children between the ages of 8 and 12 are dodging the age restrictions imposed by social networking sites such as Facebook, Bebo and MySpace. A recent poll suggests that from these results, more than 750,000 children could be illicitly using the sites potentially exposing them to risky communications and situations. Facebook and Bebo set a minimum age limit of 13 for users to register online and Myspace sets the limit at 14. Most social networking sites warn users that their membership will be deleted if they have reason to believe they are under the minimum age limit.
The poll of 1,000 UK children, aged 8 to 15 as well as 1,030 UK parents was commissioned by Garlik, which also said that parents are responding by covertley logging on to their children’s social networking sites. One in four parents (25%) admits to secretly logging on to their child’s social networking page, while 72% try to protect their children by monitoring contacts they make online. It also found that 26% of parents have set up their own social networking page to monitor their children’s online activities.
The poll also found that the children surveyed spend an average of 1 hour a day on social networking sites. About a quarter of 8 to 15-year-olds admitted having strangers as friends on their social networking page. One in five surveyed said they have met up with strangers they have only ever encountered online. Two-thirds said they posted personal information on their pages, including their school and their mobile phone number.
The research follows the Byron Report in March, which warned that ignorance among adults about technology was leaving children vulnerable to online abuse. The Byron Report said: “Parents either underestimate or do not realise how often children and young people come across potentially harmful and inappropriate material on the internet and are often unsure about what they would do about it.”
A recent Ofcom report into Social Networking suggested that 27% of 8 to 11 year olds claim to have profile page on Social Networking sites.
The poll of parents found 58% said they had become more diligent than a year ago at monitoring their children’s use of social networking sites, and 89% said they had spoken to their children about the dangers involved.