This report aimed to provide a representative preliminary insight into online risk-taking behaviour among children aged 12 in Scotland. Specifically, the report examined the prevalence of risky online behaviours, and their potential associations with groups of risk factors identified from the literature. The report used a nationally representative sample of over 3,000 children who took part in the Growing up in Scotland (GUS) survey.
The risky online behaviour most engaged in was children adding someone to their friends/ contacts list who they had never met face-to-face. Around a third (33%) of children reported performing this behaviour. Less than one in ten children (4-9%) had engaged in any of the remaining five risky online behaviours.
Overall, individual factors were associated with online risk taking but as noted, these associations were weak or very weak. For example, boys were more likely to take risks online than girls. Those living in households with higher qualifications were less likely to take risks online. Those with higher levels of wellbeing and life satisfaction were less likely to take risks online. However, associations were not found for emotional symptoms, and hyperactivity / inattention.
Family factors were important when considering risky online behaviours. Those who reported being less close to their resident parents were more likely to take risks online. Furthermore, those who reported higher levels of conflict with their parents/ children took more risks online.
Peer relationships were also influential. Being victimised either online or offline was associated with higher risk taking online. Additionally, having less close peer relationships, and feeling less connected at school were associated with higher risk taking online. However, those who found it easy to make friends seemed to take some higher risks online.
Online safeguarding was sometimes associated with online risk taking. Spending more than seven hours online on a school day was associated with higher risk taking online. Generally, higher reported parental knowledge of child's online activities was associated with lower risk taking online. However, parental reporting of knowing how to keep their children safe online, and reporting of talking regularly with their children about staying safe online were not associated with children's risk taking online. Despite this, parents having a higher number of rules and restrictions in place regarding online activity was associated with lower risk taking online.
However, readers should note that the majority of children aged 12 did not report having engaged in risky online behaviour. Therefore, subsequent analyses were based on a minority of the sample. Additionally, the analyses were cross-sectional in nature (i.e. performed at one time point), which does not allow for us to infer causality. That is, we are unable to draw conclusions regarding whether these factors caused risk taking online, or whether engaging in risky online behaviours caused these factors. Furthermore, it should be kept in mind that this report is based on evidence analysed in a pre-pandemic context, before COVID-19 impacted on Scotland. Therefore, frequencies of risky online behaviours, and their associated factors may have changed as a result of the pandemic. However, we are unable to draw any concrete conclusions on this in the current report. More evidence is needed to understand the potential ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic on the current findings, a task that was beyond the remit of this report.
Nevertheless, this report has provided a grounding on which future analyses can build further knowledge and insight into children's online risk taking behaviours. It will be interesting to see how online risk taking evolves as these children enter into young adulthood, and whether the factors highlighted in this report can predict longevity in online risk taking.