Parents neglecting risks of child surfing, says survey

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Parents in the EU are not keeping an eye on their children's online activities, according to a new survey which found that just a quarter of parents in the bloc keep track of cyber bullying and sexual grooming of their children on the Internet. 

A survey that interviewed both parents and their offspring across the EU found that children's online access of pornography, sexual targeting by strangers and offline meetings with strangers met on the Web went largely unnoticed by their parents.

"The level of parental underestimation is […] substantial," reads the report, which was compiled by researchers at the London School of Economics.

40% of parents did not know that their child had seen sexual images online, while over half of parents did not know that their child had received hurtful or abusive messages online, according to the study's findings.

Though incidences of offline meetings with the messengers were comparatively few, 61% of parents did not know that their child had agreed to a face-to-face meeting.

In addition to pornographic content, other websites that pose a risk to minors are sites promoting anorexia, suicide and self-mutilation.

A UK-based body for protecting children online says that children find it hard to confide in their parents about their experiences online. 

The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) launched a ClickCEOP button which allows children using more than 100 popular websites to get acess to volunteers and police officers to flag their concerns.

Since 2008, the operation has resulted in countless arrests and suspects were found to be targeting hundreds of other children, said a spokesperson for CEOP.

The EU study also concluded that children are spending too much time online and that children are going online at ever younger ages. The average age of first Internet use is seven in Denmark and Sweden and eight in several Northern European countries.

"Children themselves say they are often spending too much time online. We still don't know whether it's possible to be addicted to the Internet in the same way as you can to drugs or alcohol, but excessive online activity is clearly worth studying further," said Professor Sonia Livingstone, who heads the EU-funded research project.

Social networking has put children in great danger as some have committed suicide after Internet bullying on social networking sites and others have been raped after meeting up with people they have met through a website.

Children in Estonia, Lithuania, Norway, the Czech Republic and Sweden were found to be at greatest risk while online and those in Portugal, Italy and Turkey were at the least risk.

Interestingly, according to a second survey, current software to block offensive material is only geared towards traditional PC Internet access and not at surfing via mobile phones or game consoles, which are both increasingly popular access points for children.

In addition, Web 2.0 content – which includes social networking sites, forums and blogs – and instant messaging were slipping through the safety net more often than not.  

The EU Kids Online project is part of an initiative to promote a safer online environment for children.

The survey was conducted by researchers at the London School of Economics. 25,142 children aged 9-16 who use the Internet, plus one of their parents, were interviewed during 2010 in 25 European countries.

In February 2010, the European institutions launched a campaign to raise awareness of the threats posed by social networking websites such as Facebook for minors under 18.

According to an EU survey, European teenagers are barely aware of the privacy issues raised by such websites. The survey found that 50% of them do not hesitate to give out personal information on the Web, which can remain online forever and can be seen by anybody.

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