Published: 4th May 2020

Half of children and teens exposed to harmful online content while in lockdown

New research by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) has shown that children and teens are being exposed to harmful or upsetting content while in lockdown, often on a daily basis.

  • 47% of teens say they have seen content online they wish they hadn’t seen while in lockdown, and one in seven (13%) see harmful videos everyday. 

  • 14 year olds see the most harmful content, with a quarter saying they see inappropriate videos every day. 

  • The BBFC website and free app contains ratings info and age ratings so parents can help their children make informed viewing choices.

The research, carried out by YouGov, has revealed that in lockdown, nearly half (47%) of children and teens have seen content they’d rather avoid, leaving them feeling uncomfortable (29%), scared (23%) and confused (19%). 

One in seven (13%) said they see harmful content daily while in lockdown, with 14 year olds exposed to the most. A quarter (24%) of 14 year olds say they see harmful content on a daily basis. 

This comes as more than half (53%) parents say they haven’t spoken to their children about their increased time online during lockdown, with a third (29%) saying they didn’t think those chats would make a difference. 

The BBFC is encouraging parents to talk to their children about what content they might be watching online during lockdown, as 60% of children say they have approached their parents to chat after seeing content that has upset or disturbed them while they’ve been online in lockdown. 

Parents, and young people, can check out age ratings and ratings info to find out what content might contain on the BBFC website and app. The BBFC also has a wide range of educational resources to help parents homeschool their children during lockdown available on their website, and on their children’s website cbbfc.   

The research also shows that 82% of parents, and three quarters (73%) of children want to see trusted BBFC age ratings and ratings info displayed on user generated content platforms like YouTube, so they can avoid content that might upset or disturb them. 

95% of parents said they want age ratings on user generated content platforms linked to parental filters. The BBFC is therefore calling on platforms to consider using BBFC age ratings for their content, and for uploaders of user generated content to age rate their content which could then be linked to parental filters.  

David Austin, Chief Executive of the BBFC, said: “This research shows that during the lockdown parents can make a real difference to their children’s risks online if they talk about how to avoid potentially distressing and inappropriate content.  We’re supporting parents to help their children to navigate the online world safely, and both our website and children’s website cbbfc, contain a wealth of free educational resources including ones we have developed with the PHSE Association.  

“But platforms have a role to play as well. What a difference it would make, for example, if YouTube had well known, trusted BBFC age ratings created by those uploading or watching the video, that parents and young people recognise from the cinema, DVD and Blu-ray and Netflix, linked to filters. Now more than ever we need to work together to protect children online by giving them the information they need to choose content well.”  

This research supports the Government’s recognition of the need to help families stay safe online, with guidance recently issued containing the four-point plan including: reviewing security and safety settings; checking facts and guarding against disinformation; being vigilant against fraud and scams; and managing the amount of time spent online.