The Cybersurvey – carried out by Youthworks in partnership with Internet Matters – is the largest and most robust survey of its kind in the UK, with nearly 15,000 children aged 11-17 taking part across 82 schools across the country. In the latest report, it draws out key themes from what young people tell us about their online lives.
The latest 2019 Cybersurvey reveals key themes from what young people tell us about their online lives, one of which is that a growing number of children are being exposed to potentially harmful online content.
This report draws from young people, some with vulnerabilities, in schools across the country and their thoughts and experiences of navigating their online world and the risks associated with doing so.
The study, in partnership with Youthworks and the University of Kingston, ran before COVID-19. Among the themes that are highlighted in the report, is the finding that the numbers of children viewing harmful content online dramatically increased over a period of four years, between 2015 and 2019, with particular concern relating to body image and the “pressure to look perfect”.
Listening to the experiences and views of young people about their online lives is mission-critical for anyone that is engaging with children and young people. Therefore, Internet Matters was delighted to partner with Youthworks and the University of
Kingston on the 2019 Cybersurvey, as nearly 15,000 schoolchildren participated.
The survey is online and anonymous and completed in school time. The opinions expressed, the views shared, the examples given are real, unvarnished and sometimes raw. We owe it to these children to listen to what they have to say and address their concerns with them and together make the internet a safer and happier place for them to be.
Some themes emerge throughout this report that should give parents, educators and professionals working with children pause for thought. Firstly, that for many children and young people, the internet is a positive force in their lives. It’s how they manage friendships, how they communicate and how they learn.
This survey was in field before COVID hit the UK and so although the report cannot speak to the changes lockdown has brought, it does demonstrate the importance of connectivity for children. The report shows us what children are doing online and at what age, which can be used to inform us when we talk to our children and our students about their digital lives. We have to talk to them earlier than we think we should.
As ever, there are several areas that should concern us – principally the challenges of harmful content – both for boys wanting to ‘bulk up’ and girls wanting picture-perfect bodies, or even worse anorexic or harmed bodies. This report also shines a light on the racist and homophobic content far too many of our children either see or experience. The normalisation of aggressive language and the impact of our ever more visual society combine to make online a challenging place to be.
Not all children have to deal with those challenges and risks in the same way. This report reaffirms our belief that children experiencing offline vulnerabilities see, experience, encounter and are impacted by the worst of life online. Much more work is needed in this area – including continuing to listen to vulnerable children, equipping those that support them with the tools, resources and confidence to engage meaningfully in their digital lives. We owe it to those children, to get this right.
We hope you find this report insightful and useful. Our thanks to Adrienne Katz at Youthworks and Aiman El Asam from Kingston University for creating such an interesting and thought-provoking report.
The annual Cybersurvey by Youthworks explores the rapidly changing lives of young people in the digital environment; tracking trends, advantages and emerging concerns. Data is collected from 11-16-year-olds in schools, colleges and alternative provision every autumn. A small number of 17-year-olds also participated. A youth participation model helps shape the questionnaire and schools are encouraged to debate the results with young people. Local authorities and children’s services use the data to target their efforts and evaluate their services.
14,944 young people took part in the survey in 2019. Of these, 6,045 respondents aged 13 and over answered questions on relationships, meetups and sexting. A limitation is that the sample omits those not in education. In common with all earlier samples of The Cybersurvey, there are more respondents aged 11-13 than 13-16 and over, due to the year groups schools choose to include. However, this large sample provides unique insights for services and policymakers where the focus is on early prevention and support and for those concerned with younger teens becoming caught up in digital relationship problems. The focus on vulnerable groups will be of use to planners and services.
The Cybersurvey team
Adrienne Katz: Youthworks Consulting, Dr Aiman El Asam: Kingston University, London, Sheila Pryde: Youthworks and Fergus Burnett-Skelding: Youthworks.
This sample of 14,994 collected in 2019 includes respondents with a range of abilities and offline vulnerabilities. Multiple vulnerabilities are present in many individuals concurrently.
47% Girls, 47% Boys and 6% those who prefer not to state their gender.
Ages 13 and over
Girls 46%, Boys 47%, 7% prefer not to say or other.
16,092 responses were received. After cleaning 14,994 were used.
Not every respondent gave their age. Young people aged 15 and over are grouped together throughout this report.
The survey questionnaire and associated procedures received a favourable ethical opinion from Kingston University. Schools are invited to take part and given instructions on safeguarding arrangements, privacy and unique codes. Responses are anonymous.
School-level data is not shared publicly. Young people are given information about the anonymous survey and its purpose in advance. They understand that taking part is entirely voluntary, that their answers will help others and that while we would like all questions to be answered, they can opt-out if they wish. They are told how they can find out about the results and thanked.
Helplines are provided at the end of the survey.
This dissemination report commissioned by Internet Matters forms part of a research programme/project in which the authors (Adrienne Katz and Dr Aiman El Asam) are working in partnership with Internet Matters. The project titled “Vulnerability, Online Lives and Mental Health: Towards a New Practice Model” has financial support from the e-Nurture Network and UK Research and Innovation (Research Council Grant Ref: ES/S004467/1).
Reporting Cyberbullying – Young people are now 1/3 less likely to tell anyone they have been cyberbullied than in 2015.
Sexting and approaches from unknown people – The percentage of teens involved in sexting has remained remarkably stable since 2015, but the consequences have worsened.
Harmful content – The percentage of young people who come across pro-anorexia content has decreased slightly from 29% in 2015 to 23% in 2019 but remains high.
Online safety advice or education – The percentage of those who say they have been taught to stay safe online is very slightly higher in 2019, but there is little change in the percentage of teens who follow what they have been taught. This remains at a little over half, at 58% (it was 57% in 2015 and fell to 53% in 2016, 58% in 2017 where it remains in 2019). This suggests that online safety education has not been regularly followed by over 40% of teens in this age range 11-16 years, and this rate is not improving.
Hatred or aggression – Despite many campaigns and calls for change, there is no decrease in the percentage of teenagers who have come across websites that promote violence, hatred, or racist views. 18% reported this in 2015, 20% in 2016 and 19% in 2017. In The Cybersurvey 2019, more than one in five (21%) teenagers said they had come across websites with this type of content.
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