Concern over online use

Bored school girl student in class with a tablet computer
Bored school girl student in class with a tablet computer

Children as young as nine are viewing online content not intended for their age group and using social media sites even though in most cases they’re not officially allowed to have access to them until the age of 13.

And the situation is taking its toll on primary school teachers, who are having to deal with the consequences of unrestricted and unmonitored online access.

They reported that in two-thirds of classrooms, at least five children are regularly tired due to late nights online.

Use of social media sites, in particular, is widespread among the age group, according to a survey of hundreds of primary school teachers by lesson planning and resource experts PlanBee.

PlanBee’s Oli Ryan said: “Most primary schools include learning about internet safety in their curriculum but the survey made us wonder whether they are adequately preparing them for the risks and consequences of their online interactions?

“And it’s disturbing that so many teachers are having to deal with young children staying up late playing with their online devices.

“Not getting enough sleep impacts on children’s mental health and also means that they’re too tired to learn.”

Respondents, who teach nine-11-year-olds, revealed that many of their classes had Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok accounts, despite most platforms’ terms of service stipulating that users have to be at least 13 or above to sign up.

Three-quarters of teachers reported that children in their classes had YouTube accounts, although some children may be accessing publicly available content from the platform without signing in.

Three-quarters of teachers reported that children in their class were using TikTok, the video-sharing app, which launched in 2017.

It is already level-pegging in popularity with the much more established YouTube, which dates from 2005.

A PlanBee spokesman added: “TikTok has been criticised for its failure to moderate inappropriate content and its use of users’ videos in its adverts without their permission.

“WhatsApp’s terms of service state that users must be 16 and above, so the high levels of use among nine-to-11-year-olds is particularly worrying.

“WhatsApp conversations are secure and encrypted, so interactions between users are unmoderated.”

A majority of teachers also reported that pupils had accounts for online gaming services.

Unlike the other social media platforms in our survey, the three major gaming apps allow parents to create ‘sub-accounts’ for children, with controls to manage and restrict content.

Alarming numbers of nine-11s are coming to school tired due to late nights spent online.

These included youngsters who stayed up late watching, reading or listening to content and those who were playing games.

Teachers reported that in two-thirds of classrooms, at least five children are regularly tired due to late nights online.

When teachers were asked how many parents, in their estimation, actively monitored and managed their children’s online activity, 67.5 percent said it was fewer than half.

While parents are struggling to keep up with their youngsters’ online activities, their children have a good understanding of what constitutes ‘inappropriate’ content and know what they should and should not be doing online.

And teachers said that more than half of pupils aged nine to 11 understand what is meant by ‘inappropriate’.

Two-thirds of teachers have had to deal with pupils who have encountered misleading information online.

A quarter of teachers reported that at least half of their pupils had cited influencers as sources of inspiration, but most children do not aspire to be influencers themselves.

Mr Ryan also expressed concern that the parents of even young children were failing to get a grip on youngsters’ online activities.

“The survey is an indicator that there is a significant lack of oversight of young children’s online activity,” he said. “We should all be concerned.”