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Cypriot kids need internet safety

EU survey reveals that most children surf the internet unguarded from the dangers of the worldwide web

Children in Cyprus are at the mercy of cybercrime due to unguarded access to the internet according to an EU survey.

According to statistics presented at a seminar this week at Nicosia's Frederick University by Dr Yiannis Laouris who is Head of The Cyprus Neuroscience & Technology Institute, Cyprus is ranked within the top places in Europe with regards to internet access via mobile telephones (39%), internet access from the bedroom (62%) and the percentage of children aged 9-16 who have their own social networking profile (73%).

But the fact that most youngsters on the island are whiz kids when it comes to using the internet – when compared to the cyber knowledge of their parents – is not necessarily a positive thing.

"The worrying aspect of these findings is that at the same time, Cyprus is ranked amongst the bottom when it comes to the knowledge of the children with regards to safety and the actual creative potential of the internet", said Laouris who is also the Executive Director for CyberEthics. "In other words, on the one hand our children can enjoy first hand access to the internet whilst at the same time they are deprived of the essential knowledge needed to protect themselves whilst online."

He added that figures showed that children in Cyprus "knew more about the internet than their parents" along with children in Bulgaria, Turkey and Romania.

"It is obvious that parents in Cyprus are at a disadvantage when it comes to helping their children learn about the dangers of using the internet."

One of the attractions of the internet is the anonymity of the user, and this is why it can be so dangerous. A child doesn't always know with whom he or she is interacting with online.

Often we think of paedophiles as having access to children out on the playground and other places, but because of the way the internet works, children can actually be interacting on their home computers with adults who pretend to be children.

The most common means by which sexual predators contact children over the internet is through chat rooms, instant messages and email. In fact, 89% of sexual solicitations were made in either chat rooms or instant messages and 1 in 5 youths (aged 10-17 years) have been sexually solicited online.

The other risks of children using the internet include cyber-bullying and easy access to violent or pornographic material.

Commenting on ways to resolve the issue of children having unguarded use of the internet, Laouris said, "We are currently proposing a program - as part of next year's European campaign to promote safer internet use – to encourage parents to invest more time with their children and for parents to ask for help to learn more about the internet."

The key findings by the study, which was conducted by EU Kids Online, found that disadvantaged children get less help and support to protect them from the dangers of being online.

Children whose parents are less educated or do not use the internet themselves and children from disability or minority groups are among those more likely to be at risk online or more upset when they come across worrying content such as violence, sexual material or bullying. Although the differences are small (some 5% increase in risk among the disadvantaged groups) they are consistent across most risks asked about.

Yet disadvantaged children tend also to be the least likely to get access to information and guidance about living a safer life online.

The research team surveyed 25,142 children aged 9-16 and their parents in 25 countries. For more information, visit www.eukidsonline.net.

This article is published at the Cyprus Weekly newspaper