How shall we better protect children online? And what do Chinese parents think about their children’s online safety? To answer these questions, a new report presented findings from an online survey of 593 Chinese parents with children aged 6-10: While Chinese parents showed some level of privacy concerns, their primary concerns were still around inappropriate content and screen time. Online short-video platforms (e.g. TikTok) played an important role in Chinese young children’s daily life, however, many of these apps are not always appropriate for children’s age.

As the generation growing up at the frontier of IoT, children’s daily activities are constantly shifting from ’offline’ to ’online’. Both the amount of information, and the value of them has been continuously increasing, and there has been a growing risk of children’s privacy being compromised or improperly exploited . China is now home to 169 million Internet users under the age of 18, with 89.5% of children under 13s have been reported to have access to the Internet. While mobile phones are still the major way for teenagers going online (92%), tablets (37.4%) and smart TVs (46.7%) are among the devices most frequently used and have been used more by teenagers than the other age groups,. Alongside with the rapid increase in online adoption of Chinese children, there have been growing concerns. For those under 18s, 30.3% have had exposure to inappropriate contents and 15.6% had experienced online bullying. However, those privacy-related risks have not been looked at or discussed.

Key Findings

  1. Digital devices were widely adopted in Chinese families. Parents showed some privacy concerns in general; however, their primary concerns were still on the content their children might have access to and screen time control, rather than what personal information that might be collected from their children.
  2. Parents’ levels of concerns can be influenced by their own digital experiences. Parents with more digital experiences expressed a higher level of concerns about their children’s privacy online.
  3. Online short-video platforms (e.g. TikTok) played an important role in Chinese young children’s daily life, however, many of these apps are not always appropriate for children’s age. Online learning was reported to be another major reason for children being online. We found that schools and teachers played an important role in children’s choices of apps, and this is largely different from UK children.
  4. Most parents used a range of means to safeguard their children online, however mostly through restrictive approaches. Only a small proportion of them reported to (26.6%) regularly discuss privacy issues with their children and very few of them (10%) had sufficient awareness of the potential privacy risks in their children’s daily online activities. This shows that parents would benefit from the support and more resources to help them safeguard their children online.

Key Suggestions Parents’ concerns about content appropriateness and age restrictions have not always led to a consistent choice of apps for children. This indicates a need for further understanding of why this is happening, how we may provide better support for the parents, and how shall we honour the digital rights of children. At the same time, we also found that authoritarian parenting style was more often found in Chinese families. Parents have good knowledge and have applied a range of different means to safeguard their children online, however, these are typically through restrictive approaches and they struggled to discuss these issues with their children, partly because they need help on strengthening their technical competence, and they need to be better informed on how their choices and decisions would impact on their children’s online privacy safety.

Based on these findings, we recommend:

  1. Raising the general awareness of online privacy risks for both parents and children, and facilitating these discussions with young children.
  2. Encouraging parents to discuss online safety issues with their children, which provides the necessary scaffolding process for children’s learning. This would require resource development that help parents improve their digital skills and digital confidence.
  3. Tool and resource developments that focus on facilitating skill and knowledge building for both parents and their young children that enables parents to learn more about their children’s online activities, and encouraging an active co-learning experience.