Survey reveals more than 40 percent of children are chatting online with strangers

Published: Sep. 10, 2019 at 6:35 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - We often tell our children to never talk to strangers. That message may resonate when that stranger is right in front of them, but how about those strangers with whom they might interact with via their screens? An alarming number of kids are talking to strangers online.

A new survey of almost 4,000 children found that 43 percent of those aged between 8 and 13 years old are talking to people they have never met in real life on social media and gaming platforms.

“I wouldn’t have guessed 40 percent,” Louisville resident Emily Schum said. “I would have expected much lower. I have no idea what they would be talking about with complete strangers.”

“I’m sure they don’t think who is on the other end or who is playing at the other end of that,” Louisville father David Jackson said. “They are thinking it’s a kid their age.”

The study from CyberSafe Ireland found that 92 percent of children owned their own smart device and were active online. Nikki Boyd, from Norton Children’s Hospital, said it doesn’t matter where the study was conducted; kids are kids.

“Ireland, United States, I think this is a common problem worldwide,” Boyd said.

Jackson said he relies on social media for business to let his customers know where his food truck is. He also is a father with a teenage daughter who uses social media.

“I don’t know who my daughter is talking to, and they are so quick to turn that phone down when you walk up on them,” he said. “It’s scary.”

A third of the children in the survey were speaking to strangers every day or at least once a week.

“There is a lot of risk,” Boyd said. “Even as something as simple as giving out their school name, teacher’s name, what grade they are in. It can set someone up to kind of knowing where you are and that’s dangerous when you don’t know what people’s intentions are.”

What should parents do?

“You have to watch what is on their phones,” Boyd said. “Even something as seemingly innocent as a calculator on a child’s smart phone could be masking another app.”

On many social media sites, there is a minimum age requirement, but of course that is easy to get around. In the CyberSafe Ireland survey, Snapchat and WhatsApp were the most popular.

Click here for a link to the full survey.

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