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Survey Finds 18% of 9 to 11-year-olds Have Met Online Strangers in Real Life



• (ISC) Foundation Safe and Secure Online® survey quizzed 1,214 UK primary school pupils about their Internet use.

• 16% of primary school children have posted, sent or received images they wouldn’t want their family know about. 

• Findings expose widespread unsupervised and unsafe Internet use among children. 


A national survey of 1,214 UK primary school pupils by the (ISC)² Foundation’s Safe and Secure Online programme has revealed that 18% of 9-11-year-old children have met up with someone whom they first encountered online. 53% of them went to their first meeting alone. The programme, created by the world’s largest not-for-profit body of 100,000 infosecurity professionals (ISC)², to monitor and improve Internet safety among children, found widespread evidence of primary school age youngsters befriending strangers online. Over 13% of 9 to 11-year-olds accept "Friend Requests" from strangers on sites like Facebook or Skype. 


16% of children also say they have posted, sent or received images online or by text that they would not want their family to know about, while 72% of those who received an image online that upset them, did not tell anyone about it. The Safe and Secure Online programme was launched in 2006 by (ISC)² to help children protect themselves online and to create responsible digital citizens. Over 60 world-leading cybersecurity experts have visited schools and delivered presentations across the UK, teaching 5,000 children each term how to avert online risks and understand the principles of Internet security. It is now backed by industry giants like Microsoft and Deloitte. The program is available in six countries and 3 languages from Switzerland to Ireland. 


The survey data also exposed an alarmingly high level of unsupervised Internet use among young children, with 24% admitting their parents never check what they do on social networks, and one-third who access the Internet at home from the privacy of their own bedrooms. Children also admit to having received little formal teaching on Internet safety, with 31% saying they’ve never had a lesson on how to protect themselves online. 


The findings also exposed the extent to which children are falsifying their age in cyberspace, with 20% of primary school pupils admitting that they pretend to be over 18 on the Internet (of whom 13% pretend to be 26 or older). Children also report being targeted by adults who lie about their age, with 11% saying they were duped into accepting a ‘Friend Request’ from an Internet stranger who appeared to be under 18, but was later revealed to be an adult. 


Growing Internet use among children is also having a negative impact on education. 5.1% of 9 to 11-year-olds have been late and 1.8% absent due to late-night Web surfing, whilst 33% admit that late-night Internet use and online gaming has harmed their education. This could have serious repercussions for school performance; Ofsted requires schools to achieve a minimum of 95% school attendance to avoid being put into Special Measures. 


Tim Wilson, a school governor and lead volunteer with the (ISC)² Foundation’s Safe and Secure Online programme said, “Young children appear to encounter less adult supervision online than in the real world, which is encouraging them to take greater risks than they would in their offline lives. Many parents would be shocked at the material their children are sharing and receiving online and how often relationships that are initiated in the virtual world culminate in real-world meetings.” 


He added, “At a time when children are using technology at an earlier age, with 41% of 9 to 11-year-olds telling our survey they use the Internet every day, we need Internet safety education at the primary school level. It is vital that parents and carers engage children in honest dialogue about their online behaviour and that children are not embarrassed or afraid to approach an adult about upsetting experiences they have had online. Parents also need to be more aware of online dangers to help them take a more active role in supervising children’s Internet use; from moving the home computer from the bedroom to the living room to encouraging children to talk more openly about any concerning experiences they may have had online. Free resources such as the (ISC)² Foundation’s Safe and Secure Online programme are now available to help schools teach Internet safety.” 


Other statistics from the survey include: 

• The majority of children who arranged a real-world meeting with someone they first encountered online had met these people through online games (47%) or social media and online chat (26%). 

• 49% have received no lessons on how to use the Internet. 

• 14% say they have felt uncomfortable or upset chatting to an online contact whom they have never met. 

• 19% have posted online pictures of themselves or their friends in their school uniform. 


Dr. Adrian Davis, managing director for (ISC)² EMEA said, “We set up the (ISC)² initiative because our members, many of whom are at the forefront of the fight against cybercrime, saw the growing threats to child safety on the Internet and how their expertise could be used to help children protect themselves online. Volunteers began going into schools across the country to work with parents, teachers, and pupils to make them aware of both the dangers and the safeguards they can put in place. This presents a way for the technology industry to demonstrate its commitment to Internet safety and to help children become more cyber-savvy as they grow up and pursue careers in an increasingly digital economy.” 


Andrea Simmons, CISO at Hewlett Packard Enterprise Services said, “The news that young children are increasingly sharing and receiving unsuitable images and meeting adult strangers on the Internet indicates that we urgently need to see the IT industry sharing its knowledge with parents and schools to help protect children online. As the survey shows, children are increasingly tech-savvy, but not necessarily security-savvy. It is vital that children are not just taught how to use technology creatively, but also how to use it responsibly. Children are taught how to stay safe when approached by strangers in the real world, but it seems that they are not given the same lessons when it comes to protecting themselves in the virtual world. These children are growing up using the Internet for everything from college to work, so it is crucial that they learn responsible Internet behaviour from an early age to avoid the pitfalls later on in life. In spite of improvements in school curricula to address these thorny issues, extra support from programmes like Safe and Secure Online really help to bring the messages home and embed the right behaviour from an early age.” 


For more information or to request a Safe and Secure Online presentation at your school, please visit