Children and technology: What do we know about the risks?

From celebrity children Youtubers to toddlers deftly scrolling through photos on mom’s iPhone – it has now become a truism that Generation Z is tech-savvy. But the hard question is what the impact this early exposure is inducing and what are the risks – with all this technology right out of the crib.

With the recent reopening of schools, for many children around the world – this will be a remote learning experience, which means even more time in front of screens. Last February, the DQ Institute already sounded the alarm after carrying out a study on the safety and risks faced by children on the Internet. This study reveals that 60% of children aged 8 to 12 are exposed to one or more threats in the virtual world.

What are the implications of the pandemic for the safety of our kids?

Threats children are exposed to via technology

1. Cyber-bullying and reputational damage

It is estimated that 45% of children in the mentioned age group are victims of cyberstalking, that is, bullying on the internet. While harassment could be confined to the schoolyard, its online version is limitless: the guarantee of anonymity or the physical distance that the virtual world offers only encourages harassers. Cyber-bullying has many ugly faces, including posting of sensitive photos, embarrassing videos, public shaming via injurious comments, the sharing of secrets – real or imagined… Often, victims are slow to seek help and report these attacks due to the feelings of shame that they purposefully induce.

Possible consequences: Bullying and cyberstalking are the subject of various studies which have highlighted how this phenomenon can lead to suicidal thoughts, low self-esteem and depression.

2. Exposure to violent or sexual content

The DQ institute’s study shows that 29% of affected children were exposed to violent or sexual content while using the internet. Nowadays, it’s getting harder and harder to miss out on this kind of content, even for people who have a good grasp of the virtual world. Besides games, it’s important to remember that violence and sexual content often circulate on social media, in the form of comments, videos, and photos. These contents, explicit or alluding, are not appropriate for the age and level of maturity of a child, who may misinterpret it as normal behavior.

Possible consequences: Once is enough to arouse the curiosity of children who, over time, may adopt aggressive behaviors or develop sexual disorders.

3. Computer threats

It is estimated that 28% of children are subject to threats and cyber attacks. Many very young children have access to the internet, but they don’t know how to use it responsibly and safely. Often times, they don’t have basic digital cybersecurity knowledge. They are therefore unable to recognize, let alone avoid, the most common threats on the internet.

Possible consequences: The damage is to their data and the devices they use. The consequences can often be more serious if digital devices do not have basic protection such as antivirus.

4. Encounters with strangers and sexual contact

According to researchers, 17% of children between the ages of 8 and 12 are likely to meet strangers online, with all the resulting risks.

Digital education is therefore fundamental in this regard. Knowing the risks to which children are exposed to on the internet is the first step towards preventing threats and dangers, which can have immediate and serious consequences.

5. Video game and social media disorders and addictions

According to the study, 13% of children have a predisposition to disorders related to the use of video games, while 7% are at risk of developing addiction to social networks.

With the use of social media applications, screen time increases even more. The study reports that children who own a smartphone and enjoy video games or social media apps can spend an average of 39 hours per week in front of screens, a number on par or greater than time spent in school.

Possible consequences: By developing an addiction to devices, children come to have problems related to the quantity and quality of sleep. Plus, if they have their own smartphone or have a TV in the bedroom, important activities like reading or studying take a back seat.

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