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Right things and myths
Europe: the EU Kids online research in 25 countries
Internet has become part and parcel of the daily lives of European youth. In fact, 93% of children aged 9-16 go online at least once a week (60% almost every day). A third of 9-10 year-olds and over two thirds (80%) of fifteen-sixteen year olds go online every day. European children spend online 88 minutes a day on average, while children use the internet at an ever younger age: at 7 in Denmark and Sweden, at 8 in other Nordic countries; at 10 in Greece, Italy, Turkey, Cyprus, Germany, Austria and Portugal. For this reason their parents “must be made aware of the potential dangers of excessive internet use”. However, since Internet offers great advantages and opportunities, in order to decrease the risks it is necessary to “encourage dialogue and greater understanding between parents and children in relation to young people’s online activities”. These are the findings and conclusions of the “EU kids online” report, carried out by the EU Kids Online Network (25 Countries), coordinated by the London School of Economics and funded by the Safer Internet Programme of the European Commission (SI-2010-TN-4201001) with the purpose of providing a solid basis of empirical data to institutions for online security. The project is coordinated by Sonia Livingstone, with the support of researchers Leslie Haddon, Anke Görzig and Kjartan Ólafsson. The survey, published in September 2011, was re-launched on February 7, Safer Internet Day.
Top ten of all risks. A random sample of 25 142 internet users aged 9-16, and their parents (one per child) from 25 European countries were interviewed in the period spring-summer 2010. The survey delved into the main risks linked to internet use, namely, pornography; cyberbullying; sexting (sexual messages); virtual and real life encounters with people known online, diffusion and fruition of UGC (User Generated Content) that can be potentially dangerous, disseminating racial hatred, drug use or anorexia/bulimia and inappropriate use of personal information. " “Most people have concerns about the internet and the effects it can have on a new digital generation of children. But are they concerned about the right things?” said Sonia Livingstone. ‘Our study showed that in general they are not. Often their view of how children behave online is out of date and needs updating – that’s why we included the list of Top 10 myths in our report. For example, while parents worry more about ‘stranger danger’, children find cyberbullying the most upsetting risk”.
A varied picture. The survey shows that 59% of European 9-16 year olds have a profile on a social networking site - 26% of 9-10 year olds, 49% of 11-12 year olds, 73% of 13-14 year olds and 82% of 15-16 year olds. Social networks are more popular in The Netherlands (80%), Lithuania (76%) and Denmark (75%), while they are less diffused in Romania (46%), Turkey (49%) and Germany (51%). 26% of social network users have a public profile with a high of 55% in Hungary, followed by Turkey (46%) and Romania (44%). As regards to the “risks”, 41% of European children has experienced at least one of the “Top ten” risks, but only 12% said they have been upset or troubled by it. 14% said they have been exposed to pornographic material, while 15% were exposed to sexting. According to Professor Livingstone, “the risk of exposure to sexual content is higher in Northern Europe and in some East European countries, notably (in decreasing order) in Finland, Denmark, Czech Republic, Sweden and Lithuania”. To these risks should be added an inappropriate use of personal data online, of which were victims 9% of 11-16 year olds.
Dialogue and self-awareness. For Professor Livingstone, “childen accept their parents’ interest and the latter have faith in their children’s capacities”. However, it is important to boost adults’ awareness and information. Various protection “strategies” have been developed to this regard, ranging from active mediation, “which reduces the risks of being exposed to dangers without limiting online opportunities” – to restrictive strategy, which is more effective in reducing negative consequences but “limits internet use, along with its tools”, to technical mediation, that turned out to be poorly effective. In Northern Europe, the research states, “active mediation strategies prevail, with higher percentages compared to the rest of Europe. In East European countries, “active mediation and restriction are below the European average”. Parents but not only them: the report provides a set of recommendations for children’s security. These include children’s self-awareness, the crucial role of schools, institutions, and the “responsibility” of computer industry.