Why The Internet May Be Destroying Your Child Without Your Knowledge

A research conducted by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), in collaboration with the Ministry of Communications and other partners into child online practices in Ghana, has revealed that four out of 10 young people have made contact with someone on the internet they had never met face to face before.

The revelation indicates an increased threat to children as they access the internet daily according to a report from the research.

Corroborating the threat that exposure to the internet posed to children, the Minister of Communications, Mrs. Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, said

“The internet revolution has transformed how we communicate and access information and is an increasingly valuable resource for children and young people to learn, socialize, innovate and connect. However, the increase in accessibility to the internet has resulted in an increased threat to the safety and security of children online. This is because they can be exposed to bullying, online abuse, harassment, or identity theft, which can negatively impact their well-being.”

– Mrs. Ursula Owusu-Ekuful (Minister of Communications)
 Unchecked early exposure of children to the internet can expose them to pornography, bullying, online abuse, harassment, or identity theft, which can negatively impact their well-being

Key findings from the research include:

Children start to use the internet at an early age, but their parents or guardians are not as connected

The average age of first internet use for children in Ghana is 12 and has been dropping over the past years. Over a third of children (36%) are able to access the internet when they need to and only 3% have never used the internet. Boys tend to have slightly better access opportunities than girls (39% of boys and 31% of girls are “often” or “always” able to access the internet when they need to) as do older children and those living in urban areas. In comparison, more than half of the parents (55%) have never accessed the internet and mothers are overrepresented amongst the non-users (63% compared to 43% of fathers).

Children predominantly use the internet at home and on a smartphone

The most popular locations for internet access are children’s home (81%) and school (23%). Children mostly go online via a mobile phone – 65% use a smartphone and a further 21% use a non-smart mobile phone. Over a quarter (27%) use a desktop computer, while few use laptops (7%) or tablets (2%).

Learning, socializing and entertainment are amongst the most popular activities that children engage in when they are online

A range of learning activities are amongst the most popular endeavours for children in Ghana: 70% learn something by searching online and 60% use the internet for homework or study. When using the internet at school, children most often do group work with others (27%), write things (26%) or create drawings or pictures (25%), or practice something they are learning (26%). Social and entertainment activities online are also popular – 66% use social networking sites and 55% – instant messaging; about a third listen to music (39%), watch videos (36%), or play online games (30%). Children also create some online content – posting comments or photos (52%), videos or music (25%), but they are much less engaged in the more demanding creative activities, like creating a website or blog story (8%) or creating and posting own music (17%). They are also less likely to get involved in civic participation (joining an online campaign – 7%; joining a civil, religious or political group – 9%), or selling things online (5%), which is similar to children in other countries in the Global Kids Online study.

The majority of children feel safe online but many face risks of harm

More boys (65%) than girls (60%) report feeling safe when online but a quarter (25%) say that something upsetting has happened online, with 16% saying that they have been treated in a hurtful way by someone else. Boys, older children and those living in urban areas report upsetting incidents more often. Sexual content, hurtful comments, fraud, or violence are amongst the things that children find upsetting. In many of these cases, parents are not aware of the incidents – less than 1 in 10 thought that something upsetting had happened to their child online.

Children feel that they know a lot about the internet but there are important gaps in their digital skills

Half of the children say that they know a lot about the internet and 6 in 10 say that they know more than their parents. However, less than half know how to change their privacy settings (45%), know how to remove people from contact lists (48%) or know which information to share online (46%); only about a third find it easy to check if the information online is true (38%) or to decide if a website can be trusted (30%). Girls, younger children and those living in rural areas have consistently lower digital skills, and parents are overall less skilled than children (though parents who are frequent users are on par with or possess greater skills than children).

When they need help, children most often turn to their peers

Over half of children ask a friend for help when something bothered them online (54%) and about one in five turns to a family member (22% to a parent and 19% to a sibling). Over one in ten children do not speak to anyone (13%) and very few talk to teachers (4%) or other professionals (1%). In addition, the majority of children say that their parents do not talk to them about using the internet safely (70% never or hardly ever), nor do they talk to them about upsetting things that happened online (80%)

The study shows how the internet and digital technology are helping and hindering children’s learning, well-being, and social relationships. It further outlines some practical recommendations that can guide more effective programming to amplify the opportunities the digital world offers to children and to reduce the risks they have to contend as users.

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