29th September 2022

The Children’s Commissioner publishes ‘Digital childhoods: a survey of children and parents’

Today the Children’s Commissioner is publishing findings from a survey of children and their parents on online safety.

Last year the Commissioner was asked by the Secretaries of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and the Secretary of State for Education to look at children’s safety online and how it can be improved. Since then, the Commissioner has met with young people, children, and parents, published several reports on how online safety needs to improve, worked across Government and charities, and hosted a roundtable with tech firms to hold them to account and request more information on their efforts to keep children safe online.

The Commissioner remains unconvinced that tech firms are doing enough to uphold their responsibilities to young and vulnerable users. The ongoing inquest into the tragic death of Molly Russell is a harrowing reminder of the impact of harmful content on young minds.

The survey responses published today are of 2,005 children aged 8-17 and it was also completed by their parents. It shows that:

  • Children are exposed to various forms of harmful content online, which simply wouldn’t be allowed to cross their paths in the ‘real’ world. This includes sexualised and pornographic imagery, violent or gory content, material depicting self-harm, and anonymous trolling.
  • Children who are eligible for Free School Meals were significantly more likely to see every type of harmful content.
  • Only half of children who had seen harmful content reported this to the platform they saw it on. 40% of children who didn’t report said that they didn’t do so because they lacked faith in platforms’ responses.
  • Of children who did report harmful content, a quarter said nothing happened in response.
  • There are a large number of underage children on social media and messaging platforms, two thirds of 8-12-year-olds use social media.
  • Children and parents think that platforms should enforce minimum age requirements.

Self-regulation by tech firms has failed. There is an enormous opportunity with the Online Safety Bill to protect future generations of children from harm online.

See here for the full report on the findings, alongside the Children’s Commissioner’s reflections for the Online Safety Bill.