New research has found that over half of nine-year-olds are using social media, despite the restrictions on age on most platforms.

The survey, carried out by CyberSafeIreland, also found almost a fifth of children talk to strangers online every day.

The Minister for Communications has said he will raise the issue of online child safety with senior executives at Google and Facebook following the publication of the survey.

Denis Naughten, who is to visit the tech giants' offices in California tomorrow, said the research confirms that "self-declaration of age on social media sites is open to misuse which is leading to underage users accessing these sites and setting up accounts."

He said he would ask both Google and Facebook to outline new proposals or technical mechanisms they can apply to their systems to deal with the problem effectively.

He added that social media companies need to make it a lot more difficult for underage children to set up these accounts in the first instance.

The Minister is travelling to San Francisco to speak at Global Climate Action Summit this week hosted by the Governor of California Jerry Brown.

CyberSafeIreland is a charity that promotes online safety among children.

Over the past academic year it provided in-school training to more than 5,000 children in 60 schools.

It conducted a survey with them, the results of which are in its annual report to be published today.

It found over two thirds of eight to 13-year-olds own their own smartphone.

Seven out of every ten use social media and messaging apps, despite the Digital Age of Consent being set at 16 recently.

Read more:
CyberSafeIreland Annual Report in full

A fifth of 12-year-olds are spending more than four hours a day online, while 41% of eight and nine-year-olds are playing over-18s games, exposing them to highly inappropriate content.

Yet the survey found a third of children are rarely or never talking to their parents about online safety.

The organisation said the findings point to the need for Government to go further than its recent Action Plan for Online Safety and set clear time-bound measurable targets on the issue.

It also said social media companies must be made do more to protect children online and a Digital Safety Commissioner put in place to enforce action.

Parents must play a role, it said, by maintaining an ongoing dialogue with children about how to stay safe and by monitoring their online activities and time.

Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, the CEO of Cyber Safe Ireland said that children are easily bypassing age restrictions, including websites and apps with age restrictions of 16, such as Whatsapp and TickTok.

"Effectively children are ignoring it, they're just bypassing the age restrictions. And they're doing so very easily," Ms Cooney said.

"This is not a complicated process to be able to access these sites. Some of the children are doing so with parental consent and I think we need to look at this as well - how informed is that consent?

"We really need parents to be engaged in this and actively engaged in their children’s online lives.

"We need to be teaching kids to manage this better - digital literacy in schools, supporting children to be able to critically access what they are seeing online and making smart choices online."

The survey also included teachers and found that they were regularly dealing with the fallout of online safety incidents.

It found that 62% said they were dealing with online safety incidences in the classroom, with 35% dealing with between two and five incidences in the last year.

Of the multitude of social media and messaging platforms available, Snapchat remains the most popular among children aged between eight and 13, with 47% of children overall on it, followed by Instagram (36%) and WhatsApp (33%).