Three in five children exposed to cyber risks: Study
1 in 6 has met online contacts, some engaging in sexual acts
About a sixth of children aged eight to 12 have met people they got to know online, and some of these contacts have resulted in sexual acts.
Meanwhile parents, who traditionally have focused on signs of gaming addiction, may be none the wiser.
The 2020 Child Online Safety Index (Cosi) released yesterday found that three in five children in that age range are exposed to cyber risks.
These risks include cyber bullying, exposure to risky content, and experiencing risky contact.
The study, done by international think tank DQ Institute and released in association with Singtel, sampled 145,000 children from 30 countries.
It found that 17 per cent of such children have physically met online contacts or engaged in sexual acts with them.
Almost half, or 45 per cent, have reported being victims of cyber bullying.
The study describes the situation as a "cyber pandemic".
It found that 39 per cent, or close to two in five children, reported having a compromising or embarrassing photograph shared online, while 29 per cent, or nearly three in 10, have been exposed to unwanted sexual or violent media.
Only 13 per cent appear to be at risk of gaming disorder, and seven per cent at risk of social media disorder.
Mr Andrew Buay, the vice-president of group sustainability at Singtel, explained why parents may find it difficult to identify risks aside from addiction.
"Gaming addiction is a risk that is very visible, but many of the other risks are a bit more invisible," he said.
"Cyber bullying may be manifesting in a very different way. Maybe the kid is just withdrawn, that's the physical observation, but maybe the issue is there's online bullying."
Singapore was fourth safest in the global 2020 Cosi ranking, which ranked the online safety for children across 30 countries. It had a score of 65.8, behind Spain (75.6), Australia (75.1) and Malaysia (68.1).
Dr Yuhyun Park, founder of DQ Institute, said that despite its high ranking, Singapore could do better in terms of awareness.
"Parents have a low awareness, despite there being high risks," she said.
"What we encourage is for everyone to think of the other risk elements, which are seldom being discussed."
The mother of two children aged 10 and 12 added that getting parents to educate their kids was a more viable solution than any complete ban.
"The Internet is unfiltered, uncensored, and full of information," she said.
"If there is no filter out there, then we have to put the filter in our children."
She said that while children should be warned against revealing personal details, they should also be taught to be discerning users who can tap the wealth of knowledge online.
She said: "We want them to develop critical thinking, to have an understanding on making the right choices online, to use the Internet in a wise way and not be involved in risky behaviour."