Online usage patterns of children suggest they are not equipped with adequate internet safety skills

Extraordinary level of engagement with digital devices

 

A new study of child internet use, Net Children Go Mobile, which has surveyed 500 nine-to-16-year-old internet-using children in each of seven European countries, provides important evidence of evolving patterns of usage that will usefully inform internet safety policy. The Irish section of the report by Dr Brian O’Neill and Thuy Dinh of DIT, paints a complex picture of extraordinary levels of engagement – nine in 10 of all 15-16-year-olds have a profile on a social networking site – with a mixed experience online and worrying numbers admitting they have inadequate online safety skills.

One in five admits to having seen material that troubled them in the last year, while two in five 11-12-year-olds have a social networking profile despite the age restriction of 13 suggested by most services. Some22 per cent of 15-16-year-olds say they received sexual messages.

Children’s freedom to roam at will is reflected in the reality that almost half (46 per cent) do so mostly from the privacy of their bedrooms (77 per cent of 13-16 year-olds). Smartphones (35 per cent) are most used to go online, followed by laptops (29 per cent) and tablets (27 per cent). Irish children’s daily use of laptops, tablets, and phones lags significantly behind Denmark and the UK, but lower numbers here of younger children with social media profiles appear to reflect far higher levels of observance of largely ineffective age restrictions by social media sites.

The report emphasises the importance of greater school engagement in safety training, not least because of “social inequality” in the home with many parents outskilled by their children – nearly two-thirds of children claimed greater digital literacy than their parents. A large number of children acknowledge a lack of skills that school could help develop, from blocking unwanted content to an ability to use the report button, and deactivating/activating geo-location and privacy settings. Importantly, four in five parents are reported to have either discussed with children why some sites are good and bad or suggested ways to use the internet safely.

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