Studies carried out at a global level reveal that one in every three network users is under 18 years old, and 71% of digital citizens are young people between the ages of 15 and 24.
Children and adolescents are the most exposed and defenceless group to technological development, internet expansion and digital tools that have changed society.
A recent report by the United Nations Children’s fund (Unicef), indicates that in Europe, around 96 per cent of minors have access to new information and communication technology (ICT), which increase problems caused by technology. Even though the so-called digital natives easily manage these tools and perform in a web-based framework, ignorance and inexperience in other areas lead them to fall into considerable danger, often unnoticed by adults.
According to analysts, ICT intensifies the risks traditionally faced by children, and allows the proliferation of new forms of child abuse and exploitation, while at the same time hindering prevention and eradication.
Devoid of effective protection systems, children are constantly exposed to actions and inappropriate or unwanted content, which can have a detrimental effect on their physical and mental health. For instance, pornographic images and videos, materials that incite violence, racism, hatred and discrimination, or self-harm, suicide and anorexia.
Furthermore, they can establish communication and/or contact with aggressors or individuals that have a negative influence on their behaviour.
Security provided by the walls of a house are now easily broken and often under the watchful eye of parents, who underestimate or are ignorant to the risks of the internet.
In Europe, more than 40 per cent of teens admit to having visited websites disapproved by their teachers, and 70 per cent say they know how to hide this activity.
In this context, alarming new trends are appearing, including cyber bullying, sexting and grooming.
The first term refers to the use of web spaces to harass, attack and insult others, whilst the second is the exchange of images, videos and messages of a sexual content. The third term refers to deliberate actions made by an adult to gain the trust of a minor with the aim to abuse them. According to Unicef, 92% of websites which promote the sexual assault of minors, are located in only five nations, two of them are in North America, (Canada and the United States), and three in Europe (Russia, France and the Netherlands).
As stated by Unicef, “no child is safe from the dangers of the internet and it has never been easier for bullies, criminals and human traffickers to attack the most vulnerable”.
In addition to the aforementioned risks others stand out, such as children’s addiction to new technologies, difficulties relating to their environment and peers, and the reproduction of stereotypes and lifestyles promoted through these platforms.
Children are also inclined to reduce the hours that they sleep in order to stay connected, which can cause them to be irritable, stressed and depressed, or abandon their hobbies and school obligations not related to ICT.
For Doctor Richard Graham a specialist in adolescent disorders, the “addiction to technology is like a game that finishes with withdrawal symptoms, because the child remains hyperstimulated, and causes them to always be alert”.
It can also lead to anxiety, low self-esteem and depression, which provokes children to look for acceptance and valuation in Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other spaces.
Recent investigations indicate that, although most digital sites require users to be older than 13 years of age to register, around three quarters of children between the ages of 10 and 12 years already have an account.
According to inquiries completed by the Royal Society for Public Health (with the participation of 1,479 Britons between the ages of 14 and 24), the internet affects sleep quality and the perception of body image for young people, while encouraging teasing and isolation. (PL)
(Translated by Natalie Clark – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org) – Photos: Pixabay