Greatly concerned with the safety of children and their use of social media, a group of people, Project Open Eyes, came together recently and conducted a survey of over 2000 children in select secondary schools in Lagos State, to understand how they make use of digital devices to access social media.The survey, the first of its kind in Nigeria in terms of content and scale, targeted children between the ages of 13 to16 and was conducted in the light of the fact that children are increasingly owning mobile devices, using the Internet and joining several social networks that might be harmful to them. The goal of the survey was to have relevant facts relating to what children are exposed to online and how they react to it.

At the end of the survey, nine out of every 10 of the teenagers sampled said that they own mobile phones that can access the Internet and said phones were bought for them by their parents. Others got theirs from friends or boyfriends and girlfriends.

Enquiries into what they use the Internet for showed that academics/research and entertainment are the main reasons children go online. Other reasons include playing games, watching videos and movies, listening to music, and downloading content. Many of them also say that they go online to read news, read biographies of individuals that interest them, and some of them blog.

The children were found to also be heavy social media users. Altogether, they use over 70 social media networks, chat apps and even dangerous dating sites. Facebook is the most used social network among the children surveyed followed by WhatsApp, then Instagram. 34% have a Twitter account and 35% use BBM.

Interestingly, while Facebook’s policy is that only people 13 years and above could join, most of the children surveyed had joined the network by 8-9 years. This simply means that they lied about their ages in order to join. Furthermore, nine out of every 10 that have Facebook accounts say their parents are aware.

More worrisome is the fact that 77% of the children say that they do not know all their Facebook friends but were willing to hook up. Not surprisingly, 68% of the girls surveyed said that a male stranger had tried to start a conversation with them online. When asked what they do when strangers contact them online, at least one in two girls say that they first discuss with the strangers to find out what they want, 30% of them say that they sometimes block the strangers and just 12% of the girls say that they always block or ignore such advances.

At least one in two girls surveyed say that they have received an offer to date from someone they have only met online. One in every five girls that have received such offer has said ‘Yes’. The implication is that 13, 14, 15 and 16-year-old girls are dating persons that they have never seen face-to-face and their parents don’t know and seven out of every 10 of them say that they would not allow an adult read their chats or messages.

It was also found that many of these young ones are exposed to pornography. While 72% of the girls have seen pornography online without looking for it, 67% of the girls have experienced same. However, 46% of the boys and 24% of the girls surveyed have intentionally visited a pornographic site or accessed pornography online.

One out of every two of the girls surveyed say that someone online had tried to have a sexually explicit conversation with them. One out of every eight of the boys surveyed say that they have been asked online to send a nude picture of themselves while one out of every four girls said same. 7% of the girls who had received such requests admitted that they had sent a nude picture of themselves to someone online they do not physically know.

One in two of the teenagers surveyed say that they use social media daily while one in five claim they spend over seven hours online daily. Only one in four children say that their parents place some form of restriction on their mobile phone use. 92% say that their parents are on social media and 8% of the children whose parents use social media, say that their parents’ use of social media affects time that they should devote to them.

One out of every three of all the children surveyed think that social media negatively affects time they should spend studying. 12% of the boys and 2% of the girls report that they have been involved in online betting and dubious deals online that their parents do not know of.


By: Tobi Awodipe for Guardian.ng