Internet safety is one of the biggest child protection issues of the modern world, campaigners have warned.
Today is Safer Internet Day, and children’s charity the NSPCC says that young people are now experiencing new forms of abuse "on a scale never before seen" and should be given lessons in how to use the internet safely from as young as five or six.
The charity said that its latest research had found that abuse through mobile phones and the internet is one of the major issues facing young people today.
In total, ChildLine conducted around 3,745 counselling sessions last year over these issues, with a further 250 contacts from children who said they were being "groomed" online and
Claire Lilley, from the NSPCC, said: "Young people tell us they are experiencing all sorts of new forms of abuse on a scale never before seen. It's now clear that we are facing an e-safety timebomb, with this being one of the biggest child protection issues of our time."
More than two in five (41%) of those aged 11 to 19, and over a quarter (27%) of those aged seven to 11 have seen something online in the past 12 months that they found hurtful or unpleasant, according to a separate survey commissioned by the UK Safer Internet Centre.
The NSPCC also said there was also an increase in calls about online pornography, with some from children as young as 11 and previous research had shown many teenagers see "sexting" and hardcore pornography as the norm, with some describing it as "mundane".
According to research from Adblock Plus, the average person comes into contact with over 500 online adverts and pop-ups a day and while most adults are fairly confident at recognising and closing adverts of this nature, Till Faida suggests that for younger users, these can cause confusion and even distress, through the images used.
He said: “The growth in online advertising mean marketers and advertisers are operating in a very competitive field and are therefore becoming much more aggressive in their tactics to ensure their message is seen and clicked through.
“As a result, a child could be innocently clicking away when something pops up that gets their attention and they click through, opening up to content of a very adult nature.
“We recently conducted a survey into consumer attitudes of online advertisements and our results indicated that 75 per cent of surveyed participants felt that the online advertisements seen by children displays inappropriate content.
“It’s therefore clear that parents recognise the concerns around online advertisements, however, there’s now the challenge of teaching them how to assert measures and control them.”
The NSPCC is calling for all schools to provide age-appropriate lessons in online safety, with pupils themselves sharing advice on how to stay safe and also says parents should have access to information to talk to their children about using the internet as they would drugs or the danger of strangers.
The Have Your Say study, which questioned around 24,000 schoolchildren, found that a third (31%) of seven to 11-year-olds and 23% of 11-19-year-olds said that gossip or mean comments online had stopped them from enjoying using the internet and more than half (57%) of primary school children and 63% of those at secondary school say they want the right to feel safe online.
Will Gardner, chief spokesman for the UK Safer Internet Centre, said: "In our research young people clearly stated that they should have the right to feel safe online and they also recognise they have a responsibility in helping themselves and others be safe online, whether that's behaving kindly towards others or helping friends who are experiencing problems."
Earlier this week experts warned that children are being groomed by paedophiles purely for online sexual abuse and sex offenders are targeting children so that they can watch them performing sexual acts over the internet.
The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) said that for these paedophiles, physical contact with the children does not appear to be a motivation and that of 1,145 reports of online grooming last year, just 7% related to trying to meet a child in person, a drop from 12% in 2011.
Chief executive of CEOP Peter Davies said: "On a daily basis we see the devastation caused to young people's lives by online grooming.
"What we are seeing is that for a growing proportion of grooming cases reported to the centre, online abuse is an end in itself."