Over 90% of children aged between eight and 13 own a smart device and 12% of these are spending over four hours per day online, a new report has revealed.
According to the 2018 Annual Report of Cyber Safe Ireland, an organisation which aims to teach children how to use technology in a safe and positive manner, 92% of children in this age group own some sort of a device.
The report found that ownership rises incrementally with age. Some 83% of eight-year-olds own devices and this rises to 98% of 12-year-olds.
The most popular devices are tablets, games consoles and smartphones.
The report notes that in the previous academic year, 2017/18, Cyber Safe Ireland focused on children who owned a smartphone, however this year, it decided to look at all devices.
"We have noticed in media commentary, a focus on smartphones in particular and our concern is that this focus detracts from the full picture...There is a danger with a focus on smartphones in particular that parents overlook the other devices that their children own.
"Some parents tell us that they've "held off" on the smartphone, but when probed further, it turns out that their child has other devices, all of which can be used to access social media and gaming platforms, and for other online activities," the report stated.
When it comes to time spent on devices, 33% of children were spending up to one hour online per day, while 31% were spending one to two hours online per day. Some 17% were spending two to fours online every day, while 12% were spending in excess of four hours online every day.
Cyber Safe Ireland noted that it is often asked what is the ‘right' amount of screen time for children.
"In our view, it is important to consider what they are doing online over how long they are spending online (quality over quantity), although clearly time limits and boundaries are also needed. It is also important to consider if screen time is replacing other activities required for a healthy balanced lifestyle," the report said.
It noted that the UK Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health published guidelines on this in January of this year, which acknowledge that every family is different. However, it also offered helpful guidance to assess how healthy screen time is for each family based on four key questions:
-Is screen time controlled?
-Does screen use interfere with what your family wants to do?
-Does screen use interfere with sleep?
-Are you able to control snacking during screen time?
The report also noted that in April of this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued further guidelines around screen time, which go further than the American Association of Paediatrics (AAP) 2016 guidelines.
These include recommendations of no sedentary screen time for children under the age of two, and sedentary screen time of no more than one hour for children aged between two and four years.
Meanwhile, the report also noted that 43% of children aged between eight and 13 are talking to strangers online with 17% of these talking to strangers every day. Boys are much more likely than girls to chat to strangers online.
Furthermore, 29% of children in this age group have played over-18 games, including 36% of eight-year-olds.
Some 36% of children rarely or never talk to their parents about online safety.
Snapchat remains the most popular app for children in this age group, followed by WhatsApp, Instagram and Tik Tok. YouTube is also a "hugely popular platform", with 26% of children appearing in YouTube videos where their faces are shown.
The report calls for a five-year Government strategy to address the many issues facing children who are online today. This strategy should include clear goals and targets, such as robust monitoring and regulation of online service providers.
It also calls for better public awareness campaigns and better education around this topic in schools.
"The Internet is here to stay and children's enthusiasm for it remains strong too. The onus is therefore on parents, educators, the online service providers and policy-makers to prepare them for it in a much more consistent and conscientious way.
"We need to support them to become safe and smart digital citizens, to be critical thinkers online, to find a healthy balance between their offline and online lives and to make the most of the opportunities that are offered by the online world, without putting themselves in harm's way," the report concluded.
It can be viewed here.