Lots of research about online risks exist. Below, we provide a brief overview of recent European and worldwide statistics to paint a general picture of the situation. A more extensive overview can be found in the EU Kids Online report , which includes survey results from 19 European countries and maps online risks and opportunities for children between the ages of 9 and 16. On the Global Kids Online website, evidence is gathered on a global scale on children’s online risks and opportunities.
How frequent are online risks?
According to the latest EU Kids online report, on average 25% of 9-to-16 year old children reported having been bothered or upset online . The lowest incidence was found in Slovakia (7%) and the highest one in Malta (45%).
Children report more negative online experiences when they are older. There are few gender differences in reporting negative online experiences in the EU countries surveyed .
In most of the European countries surveyed, less than 10% of the children reported having been a victim of cyberbullying monthly .
"Cyberbullying refers to intentional and repeated harm that others inflict via a digital device." Hinduja, S., & Patchin, J. (2009).
In Europe, from six types of harmful content, namely, hate messages, violent images, content suggesting ways to be very thin, content describing experiences with taking drugs, ways of physically harming themselves and ways of coming suicide, children reported to be most exposed to hate messages (17%) and violent images (13%). Overall, older children report seeing hate messages more often in comparison with younger children .
Exposure to one type of harmful content is interrelated to other types of harmful content. This means that when children are, for example, exposed to hate messages, they are also more likely to see violent images .
"Hate speech is a term that is used to describe a broad discourse that is extremely negative and constitutes a threat to social peace. It covers all forms of expressions that spread, incite, promote or justify racial hatred, xenophobia, anti-Semitism or other forms of hatred based on intolerance." Council of Europe
In Europe, between 8% (in Italy) and 39% (in Flanders) of young people between the age of 12 and 16 years old received a sexual message in the previous year (2019) .
"Sending sexually explicit messages via electronic devices is often called sexting." Smahel et al. (2020).
Between 1% and 20% of children in Eastern and Southern Africa and Southeast Asian Countries have experienced online sexual exploitation or abuse in the past year . Up to a third of these children did not disclose the experience to others. The children that do disclose tend to go to people they trust instead of using formal mechanisms such as turning to the police, contacting a helpline or going to a social worker .
"Online sexual exploitation and abuse are situations that involve digital, internet and communication technologies at some point during the abuse or exploitation. It can occur fully online or through a mix of online and in-person interactions between offenders and children." UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti (2022).
Sometimes adults believe that certain online behaviour is a risk, but the children and young people themselves might experience it otherwise. For example, between 25% and 50% of children in Europe have communicated online with someone they did not know in real life, 1 in 6 of these children met this person face-to-face after the online encounter and most of these children reported positive feelings such as feeling happy after meeting them . It must be noted, though, that meeting someone known only on the internet should be treated with caution, and that children should be taught and encouraged to employ adequate measures to assure their safety before and during such encounters, for instance by telling someone about the meeting or meeting in a public place.
Are all children affected equally by online risks?
The longer children spend online, the more opportunities they experience, but also the more risks they may encounter  .
Some groups of children and young people can get more upset by certain types of risks. For instance, girls are more likely to report that they feel bothered or upset by seeing sexual images or by online encounters .
In Europe, older children report more negative online experiences compared to younger children .
Children and young people who participate in more online activities tend to have better digital skills compared to those who engage in fewer activities . Children who do not have advanced digital skills are disproportionally exposed to online risks .
Children who are exposed to an online risk are often more likely to be exposed to other online risks . For example, children who have experienced online bullying are more likely to see online pornography or meet new online contacts offline, and vice versa." .
There is often a connection between online and offline risks, and offline vulnerability is related to online vulnerability. For example, children who are bullied offline are often also involved in online forms of bullying   while children who already suffer from more psychological problems can feel more intensely upset when they are bothered by something online .
How do children cope with online risks?
Children who experience something negative online can react and cope in different ways depending on many factors such as their personality traits, the available support (e.g., family, friends, school, community support, etc.), their own coping strategies, but also the type of risk encountered. For instance, some children may block unwanted content or contacts, others may prefer to talk about their experience, and some may ignore the situation . Interestingly, the EU Kids Online survey shows that most children think that they know how to react to online behaviours of others they do not like .
"Coping strategies are the thoughts and behaviours that are used to adapt to stressors in ways that protect them from psychological harm." d’Haenens, L., Vandoninck, S., & Donoso, V. (2013).
The EU Kids online survey shows that in Europe, parents are the main source of help when something bothering or upsetting happens online to the children. More than half of the children surveyed said that their parents help them at least sometimes. Friends are reported as sources of help by a lower number of children. In most countries, the least commonly used source of help are teachers or other professionals  .
Livingstone, S., & Stoilova, M. (2021). The 4Cs: Classifying Online Risk to Children. (CO:RE Short Report Series on Key Topics). Hamburg: Leibniz-Institut für Medienforschung | Hans-Bredow-Institut (HBI); CO:RE - Children Online: Research and Evidence. https://doi.org/10.21241/ssoar.71817
Smahel, D., Machackova, H., Mascheroni, G., Dedkova, L., Staksrud, E., Ólafsson, K., Livingstone, S., and Hasebrink, U. (2020). EU Kids Online 2020: Survey results from 19 countries. EU Kids Online. Doi: 10.21953/lse.47fdeqj01ofo
Hinduja, S., & Patchin, J. (2009). Bullying beyond the school yard: Preventing and responding to cyberbullying. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Council of Europe. https://www.coe.int/en/web/freedom-expression/hate-speech
UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti (2022). Children’s Experiences of Online Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in 12 Countries in Eastern and Southern Africa and Southeast Asia. Disrupting Harm Data Insight 1. Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children. https://www.end-violence.org/sites/default/files/2022-05/DH-data-insight-1_Final%281%29.pdf
ECPAT International & UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti (2022). Children’s Disclosures of Online Sexual Exploitation and Abuse. Disrupting Harm Data Insight 2. Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children. https://www.end-violence.org/sites/default/files/2022-05/DH-data-insight-2_FinalB%282%29.pdf
UNICEF (April 2020). COVID-19 and its implications for protecting children online. https://www.unicef.org/documents/covid-19-and-implications-protecting-children-online
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Livingstone, S. (2015, November 16). 6 things policy-makers need to know about children and the internet. https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/medialse/2015/11/16/6-things-policy-makers-need-to-know-about-children-and-the-internet/
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d’Haenens, L., Vandoninck, S., & Donoso, V. (2013). How to cope and build online resilience? EU Kids Online. https://eprints.lse.ac.uk/48115/