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UK Children Go Online: Balancing the Opportunities Against the Risks

  • Prof Sonia Livingstone

Abstract

As UK households gain access to the internet, many questions arise for social scientists and policy makers. This working paper overviews a project designed to understand the balance of opportunities and risks afforded to children and young people by the diffusion and appropriation of the internet in everyday life. The project, UK Children Go Online, sought to steer a course between utopian and dystopian views by conducting a substantial multi-method empirical project focusing on four key dimensions of use -(1) access, inequalities and the digital divide; (2) undesirable forms of content and contact; (3) education, informal learning and literacy; and (4) communication, identity and participation. Gradations in frequency of internet use, significantly explained by demographic, use and expertise, predicted take-up of online opportunities, this suggesting a new divide between those for whom the internet is an increasingly rich, engaging and stimulating resource and those for whom it remains a narrow, unengaging, if occasionally useful, resource. Notably, despite the widespread notion that young people are the internet experts, the research identified a range of ways in which children struggle with the internet. Last, the research showed that it is those who take up more online opportunities, not fewer, who encounter more of the risks associated with internet use. This raises particular challenges for parents and schools in supporting children as the task of determining what is trustworthy, reliable or safe online.


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