Cybersecurity of children ‘a huge problem’ for parents and policymakers – Newstalk

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The cybersecurity of children is “a huge problem” for parents that can be solved through conversations and setting boundaries, according to a leading child safety expert.

On Late Breakfast today, CyberSafeKids CEO Alex Cooney said policymakers and parents are scrambling to protect children in the digital world after ignoring the issue for almost a decade.

Studies have found that 85% of primary school children have a smartphone or tablet device.


‘Substantial change’

Ms Cooney said the level of access children have to smart devices has been “consistently high” for years but has only recently come to the attention of many.

“The thing that’s changed is we’re talking about it a lot more,” she said.

“When we first started, there wasn’t coverage in the media or policy discussions around this; we didn’t even feel parents were listening that much.

“That has changed in the last two years, there’s been a real substantial change with policymakers discussing this more regularly.

“Parenting is key at home, ensuring you have regular conversations and good boundaries in space.”

Toddler on phone talking. Image: caia image / Alamy Stock Photo Toddler on phone talking. Image: caia image / Alamy Stock Photo

Ms Cooney said COVID has “accelerated and exacerbated” society’s dependence on smart devices.

“We now need to acknowledge children are growing up in a digital age, we need to recognise it, see the opportunities, and use devices as a tool”, she said.

“At the moment we’re sending kids into online spaces ill-equipped, we’re not supporting or supervising them.

“If you teach a child to ride a bike, it’s a process and it takes years and eventually, they get to a point where they can go off on their own.

“We need to approach it the same way with the digital world.”

‘Huge problem’

Neurological development therapist Ollwyn Moran said children are using online devices from just months old.

“68% of six-month-old babies are given phones to use and play, sitting in the pram or in the bath – whatever it may be,” she said.

“At that age their brain isn’t even wired into their body yet, it’s a huge problem, and ten years ago there was no conversation about this.

“I think parents now are realising the problem because they have recognised their own usage has increased significantly and they are feeling the impacts of it themselves.”

Person with fingers on keyboard of laptop in dark lighting Person with fingers on keyboard of laptop. Image: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Ms Moran said her children weren’t allowed to own a phone until well into secondary school.

“Neither of my children were given a phone until the September after their Junior Cert,” she said.

“I knew that there’s massive impacts to it, even on the physiological development of their brain.

“They didn’t miss out on anything either.

“Would you give children a packet of cigarettes at age ten because everyone else was smoking? Absolutely not.”

Norma Foley has previously written to the online safety commissioner calling for a ‘robust’ age verification system on social media platforms.

Main image: A child using a smartphone. Image: Aiman Dairabaeva / Alamy Stock Photo

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