1. Executive Summary
Online communication is commonplace among children and young people. Unfortunately, the increased accessibility of the internet has resulted in more opportunities for children to engage in risky online behaviours. Participating in these behaviours could result in children being exposed to upsetting or distressing content online and, potentially, serious forms of victimisation such as sexual harrassment (Livingstone & Görzig, 2014; Notten & Nikken, 2016).
At present, there is a lack of information on the extent to which children in Scotland are engaging in these risky online behaviours. There is also little information on factors which may be associated with risky online behaviour engagement in a Scottish setting. This report uses 2017-18 data from the Growing up in Scotland (GUS) study to begin to provide answers to these questions, specifically within a representative cohort of over 3,000 12-year-old children in Scotland.
Data in this report were collected and analysed in a pre-pandemic context, therefore, frequencies reported here should be understood as occurring before COVID-19 impacted on Scotland. Emerging evidence suggests that frequencies of some of the factors outlined, e.g. time spent online, life satisfaction, and online safeguarding, may have altered as a result of the pandemic (Generation Scotland, 2020; IWF, 2020; UNICEF, 2020). Despite the importance of such evidence, this report does not include any examinations of these potential changes since the beginning of lockdown in March 2020. Future exploration is welcome to increase understanding of any potential changes in these factors during COVID-19, an examination of which was beyond the scope of this report.
Six questions from the GUS survey were used to identify individuals engaging in risky online behaviours, these are shown in Figure 1.
Figure 2. Groups of risk factors explored in this report
- Household qualifications
- Life satisfaction & mental wellbeing
- Hyperactivity/ Inattention
- Emotional symptoms
- Family structure
- Parental closeness
- Parent-child conflict
Peer relationship Factors
- Making new friends
- Peer relationships
- Enjoyment in school
- Time spent online
- Parent's knowledge of child's online activities
- Parent's & children's knowledge of staying safe online
- Parent's mediation of child's online activities
- Use of rules and restrictions
The risk factors selected for analysis, shown above in Figure 2, were drawn from a review of available literature. Key sources used are listed in the reference list. However, a full discussion of the literature is not given here because a comprehensive review was not completed as part of this project.
Only statistically significant results are presented here. Where significant, the strength of the association is also presented (very weak, weak, moderate, strong) . It is important to note that these analyses cannot be used to draw conclusions regarding causality but, rather, should be used as a preliminary insight into the strength of associations between factors measured. For further information on the methodology, see Appendix 10.1.
Findings from the analyses indicate that in Scotland:
- Most children (60%) aged 12 have not engaged in any of the risky online behaviours explored here. Indeed, less than one in ten children reported engaging in each behaviour. This low prevalence for risky online behaviours should be kept in mind when interpreting the role of other potentially associated risk factors.
- Of those that had engaged in risky online behaviours, the largest percentage of children (~33%) had only engaged in one or two of the six risky online behaviours.
- The most common behaviour children reported having engaged in was adding someone to their friends/ contacts list who they had never met face-to-face (33%).
Results from analyses exploring the associated risk factors are discussed below, and are structured according to each of the four groups of risk factors (see Figure 2).
Individual Factors - Chapter 4
- Boys were more likely than girls to have engaged in four specific risky online behaviours: adding someone to their friends/ contacts list they had not met face-to-face, doing something online their parents would not want them to, lying to their parents about what they had done online, and meeting up with someone who they had first made contact with online. Though it should be noted that these differences were small.
- The Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) quintiles were not associated with the likelihood of engaging with risky online behaviour.
- Children whose parents had no qualifications were more likely to have met up with someone who they had first made contact with online. Children from households with degree level qualification were the least likely to have sent personal information online to someone they had never met face-to-face (though differences were small).
- Children with lower levels of life satisfaction were more likely to have engaged in almost all of the individual behaviours. No association was found between life satisfaction and meeting up with someone face-to-face who they had first made contact with online.
- Children with lower levels of mental wellbeing were more likely to have engaged in all six of the risky online behaviours.
- Children who reported average levels of hyperactivity/ inattention were less likely to have engaged in each of the six risky online behaviours, in particular, adding someone online that they had never met face-to-face.
- There was little association between those children who had higher emotional symptoms scores (used to measure social, emotional and behavioural development) and their participation in risky online behaviours. However, those who reported higher emotional symptoms scores were more likely to have done something online that they know their parents would not want them to do. No other associations were found.
Family Factors – Chapter 5
- There was little association between family structure (lone parent family vs. couple family), and participating in risky online behaviours. However, children of lone parent families were more likely to have reported sending personal information to someone that they had never met face to face.
- Children who identified themselves as being less close to their parents (either resident mother or father) were more likely to have engaged in risky online behaviour. In particular, these children were more likely to have lied to their parents about what they do online.
- Children whose parents identified high levels of parent-child conflict were more likely to have engaged in all bar one (meeting up with someone they had first made contact with online) of the six risky online behaviours.
Peer Relationship Factors – Chapter 6
- Children who said they found it very easy to make friends at secondary school were more likely to have met up with someone they first made contact with online. There was, however, no association between ease of making friends and any of the other behaviours.
- Children with higher peer-closeness were less likely to have added someone to their friends/ contacts list that they had never met face-to-face, to have done something online that their parents would not want them to, or to have lied to their parents about what they did online.
- Around half of children had experienced face-to-face victimisation. These children were more likely to have participated in four of the six behaviours. Fifteen per cent of children had experienced online victimisation. Those who had were more likely to have engaged in all of the risky online behaviours.
- Most children had a high engagement/ enjoyment of school. Those who had a lower engagement/ enjoyment were more likely to have engaged in all six risky online behaviours.
Online Safeguarding Factors – Chapter 7
- The largest percentage of children reported spending one to three hours a day on social media (34%). Those children who said they spent more than seven hours a day on social media on an average school day were more likely to have engaged in all six risky online behaviours.
- Most children felt their parents knew almost everything or quite a lot about what they did online (81%). This broadly matched how much parents felt they knew (82%). Children who felt their parents knew almost everything about what they did online were less likely to have engaged in all six risky online behaviours.
- Most children felt they knew a lot about protecting themselves online (71%). Those who said they knew more about protecting themselves online were less likely to have added someone to their friends/ contacts list who they had never met face-to-face. They were also less likely to have lied to their parents about what they did online.
- Just over half of parents felt they knew quite a lot about protecting personal information online, or protecting their child from strangers online. Children reported knowing more about both these issues than parents. However, children whose parents knew less about protecting their child online were no more likely to engage in any of the behaviours than those children whose parents felt they knew a great deal.
- Most parents spoke often or very often to their children about staying safe online, with 70% talking to their children about how to behave on social networks. However, no association was found between how much parents spoke to their children about staying safe online and their participation in any of the risky online behaviours.
- Most parents mentioned having rules about what their child could do online. Only one in ten parents did not have any rules or restrictions on what their child did online. Children whose parents used two or more of the five measured rules/ restrictions were less likely to have added someone to their friends/ contacts list who they had never met face-to-face. No statistically significant associations were found between any of the other risky online behaviours.