Politicians are being urged to "back stronger digital education", as new figures reveal the majority of UK children have been exposed to at least one form of cyber risk.
A three-year study by an international think tank has found that 60 per cent of 8- to 12-year-olds in the UK have faced online dangers such as cyberbullying, gaming disorders and exposure to violent or sexual content.
And this figure rises to 73 per cent for young people aged 13 to 19.
School leaders: Don’t leave children to their own devices
The Child Online Safety Index (COSI), based on a survey of more than 145,000 children and young people in 30 countries, ranked the UK below any other developed country for child cyber safety.
The study, by think tank DQ Institute, found that one in seven children aged 8-12 (14 per cent) have been exposed to sexual content on the internet.
Meanwhile, almost a third of 13- to 19-year-olds (32 per cent) have experienced unwelcome sexual contact online.
The figures also show that nearly half (47 per cent) of children aged 8-12 have experienced cyberbullying, while one in four (24 per cent) are at risk of a gaming disorder.
Yuhyun Park, founder of the DQ Institute, said the UK's poor performance in the "disciplined digital use" measure should serve as a "wake-up call to everyone in British society".
She called for governments across the world to "back stronger digital education", adding: "Primary schools also must teach students digital citizenship as part of their standard curriculum."
Asked what action the UK government should take to boost cyber safety for children, Dr Park said: "Based on preliminary research on the City of London in collaboration with the Coalition for Digital Intelligence last year, even though there have been many digital skills pushes in the UK, they are more focused on technical and operational skills without a comprehensive understanding on digital intelligence (global standards for comprehensive digital literacy, skills, and readiness).
"Moreover, many of the initiatives have been geared toward adults in work, not on children's cyber safety and security.
"When developing the digital skills agenda, policymakers should approach in a comprehensive way to ensure that digital skills agenda covers all eight areas of digital intelligence – not just technical job skills but also, digital safety, security, rights, identity, and others, and not just for workforce but also [for] children and families."
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has been approached for comment.