Safer Internet Day 2024: Three in four parents worried about online harms

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Almost half of children and three-quarters of parents and carers are worried about safety risks amidst fast-paced technological developments such as generative AI. 

New research released by the UK Safer Internet Centre (UKSIC), coordinators of Safer Internet Day in the UK, reveals that while young people are excited about how developments and changes in technology such as AI, VR, and new social media apps could enhance their lives, they also understand the need for wider discussions and greater education around these.

The research also reveals low awareness of the Online Safety Act, a new law that priorities the safety of children online and places new duties on social media companies around the content shared on their platforms, with only 32% of children and 42% of parents and carers having heard of this. 

A third (33%) of young people in the UK say they have used Generative AI, such as Chat GPT or SnapAI before. While most young people who have used genAI  have seen their peers using it positively (72%), over half (53%) have seen people their age use it negatively, for example creating images used to upset someone or creating believable false information. This was also evident as 60% of children who have used genAI and 61% of parents and carers believe that it has safety risks for children. 

  • 74% of parents and carers, and just under half (45%) of children have worries about safety as developments with artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR) and new social media apps continue to accelerate
  • While 70% of young people who have used generative AI (genAI) say they are excited about the potential of generative AI (genAI) to improve their lives and lives of their friends, over half (53%) of children who have used genAI have seen their peers use it in a negative way 
  • 67% of children think the Online Safety Act is needed because social media companies need stronger regulations to protect young people’s safety online 
  • 80% of children and young people think that young people should be listened to more about changes in technology, such as how it can remain safe

Safer Internet Day 2024 is focusing on how young people are not only navigating the online changes happening around them, but also using the internet to inspire positive change, including standing up for groups that are targeted online. 61% of young people say they have regularly sent a friend a kind message online if that friend felt sad or unsafe online and over half (64% of 15-year-olds) have changed their profile picture online or added a filter to support a cause or campaign in the last year.

In addition, well over a third (39%) feel that online influencers inspire them to have a positive impact in the world. However, 74% of parents and carers worry that influencers on social media could hurt the mental or emotional well-being of their child. 

The research found that the majority of young people have a positive outlook on the ever-changing online world, with 66% saying they feel excited about changes including developments with artificial intelligence, virtual reality headsets and new social media apps. And yet, along with this positive outlook, a significant number of young people, 36%, say they feel worried about these changes. 

Currently, only 32% of young people and 42% of parents and carers have heard of the Online Safety Act, though 57% of young people want to know more about the Act. While awareness of the Act may be low, its intention to help keep young people safe is particularly important to them, with 67% agreeing that the Act is needed because social media companies need stronger regulations to protect young people’s safety online. 

Generative AI brings new challenges 

70% of young people who said they had used genAI, such as ChatGPT or SnapAI, say that they are excited about the potential of this technology to improve their lives and the lives of their friends and 72% have seen people their age use genAI in a positive way. However, as well as these positive sentiments, 60% of young people that report using genAI believe it has online safety risks. 

Young people want to know about how to stay safe whilst using new and emerging technologies, with 65% of 8-17s who have used genAI stating that they want better support to learn about the safe use of it and what to do if they have a problem. 

Added to this, 65% of young people think that social media companies such as Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok should do more to help teach young people about online safety as the technology they create changes. 

While many young people feel excited about changes to online technology and many parents and carers feel positive about the support they have given their children to stay safe online so far, they are much less confident about keeping up with this as technology rapidly evolves. While 75% of parents and carers say they trust they have equipped their child with the information and knowledge they need to stay safe in different online contexts, 74% would like to know more about how to help ensure their child is safe online as technology changes.

Says UKSIC Director, Will Gardner OBE: 

“Our research shows the excitement many young people feel over the changing online landscape and emerging technologies. However it also shows the concerns young people have around safety and the need they see for more support; views shared by their parents and carers.

On Safer Internet Day we see thousands of organisations across the UK working to make a difference, using this moment as an opportunity to take practical steps and to talk about keeping safe online and making vital conversations happen at home, at school and beyond.”

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Chris Price
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