British children stare at screens for 44 hours per week, says first global Child Online Safety Index

In light of Safer Internet Day 2020, research has revealed that UK children hold the second-highest weekly screen time in the world

International think-tank the DQ Institute has today launched the world’s first real-time Child Online Safety Index (COSI), revealing that British children spend almost two days a week in front of screens – the second-highest screen time of all countries surveyed.

To compile the rankings, the Institute surveyed 145,426 children and adolescents in three countries over a period of three years. In terms of disciplined use of tech, UK children ranked second to last, based on factors such as screen time, high social media and game use, and mobile phone ownership among young people. The Dominican Republic was the only country to rank below the UK, while Japan ranked first.

Source: DQ Institute

In the UK, 8-19 year olds in Britain are spending almost two days (44 hours) per week looking at computer, mobile phone and television screens  – almost twice the weekly screen time (24 hours) experienced by children the same age in Japan.

Disciplined digital use is one of six measures – including cyber-risks, digital competence, education, social infrastructure, and connectivity – that comprise the COSI rankings. For online safety, the UK ranks 19th out of 30 countries overall, lower than any other developed country surveyed for the rankings. Spain, on the other hand, ranks first; followed by Australia, while Thailand comes in last.

The Index represents the first real-time benchmark to help nations understand the online safety status of their youth. Launched as part of the #DQEveryChild campaign, the DQ Institute has collaborated with over 100 global organisations – including Singtel, AIS, Optus, Twitter, and World Economic Forum  – on the project, which was first announced in 2017. The COSI is tied with DQ’s assessment tools and its database will automatically update as countries develop their online safety and digital citizenship initiatives.

This year’s COSI also ranked the UK 23rd for digital competency – a measure of children’s ability to use technology safely and responsibly. India, in first place, is well ahead of the UK; while Thailand comes in last at the opposite end of the digital competency scale.

In terms of social infrastructure, the UK comes in 2nd, accounting for government policies and ethical industry practices for online child protection. The nation is second only to the US. Nepal performed the worst in this measure, followed by Vietnam in second to last place.

The UK also scored well for connectivity, which calculates children’s meaningful access to the internet, coming in 6th. Singapore earned top score in this measure, while again, Nepal came in last.

In other categories, the UK came in 17th for youth exposure to cyber-risks – including cyberbullying, risky content and risky contact with strangers. Here, Japan earned first once again, while Thailand come in last.

Child Online Safety Index
Source: DQ Institute

According to the results, 66% of British children aged 8-12 are exposed to at least one form of cyber-risk – including 47% who have experienced cyberbullying, and 24% who are at risk of developing gaming disorder. On top of this, 32% of 13-19 year olds in the country have experienced unwelcome sexual contact online.

The UK also comes in 16th place for guidance and education, which evaluates the protective support and direction students receive from both parents and schools. In this measure, Egypt comes in first, while Indonesia significantly lags behind in last position.

In related news: New digital council to innovate the UK tech sector

Impactful global findings of the Child Online Safety Index

Among the report’s most damning findings was the fact that almost two-thirds (60%) of digital natives aged 8-12 across the 30 countries surveyed are exposed to more than one form of cyber-risk, signalling a ‘cyber-pandemic’.

These risks include:

– 45% of children being affected by cyberbullying
– 39% of children experiencing reputational risks
– 29% being exposed to violent and sexual content
– 28% of children experiencing cyber threats
– 17% experiencing risky contact via offline meetings or sexual contact with strangers
– 13% of children being at risk of developing gaming disorder
– 7% remaining at risk of developing social media disorder

The rankings found that, generally, Western and East Asian countries rank higher for children’s online safety, with South and Southeast Asian, Latin American, Middle Eastern and African countries normally ranking lower.

East Asian countries also tended to perform better than other countries in terms of cyber-risks, disciplined digital use, digital competency and connectivity. Western countries generally outperformed other regions for social infrastructure, and guidance and education.

“That the UK ranks lower than any other developed country surveyed in the Child Online Safety Index should serve as a wake up call to everyone in British society about the safety of the nation’s children online,” said Dr. Yuhyun Park, founder of the DQ Institute.

“But no nation, no matter where they are ranked, has cause for complacency,” she adds. “What we are witnessing is a global cyber-pandemic with high exposure to multiple forms of online risks threatening children across all the countries we surveyed.

“Everyone in the country has a role to play in turning this around. Businesses, from social media and telecommunications to hardware and gaming companies, should make online safety a core business principle. Companies should also partner with schools to help tackle cyberbullying. And governments must back stronger digital education.

“But most importantly,” concluded Park, “parents must be aware that they can make changes and reduce online harm. Helping children discipline their digital use from an early age is a necessary starting point for mitigating cyber-risks. Primary schools must also teach students digital citizenship as part of their standard curriculum.”