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Parents still underestimate internet risks

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Parents considerably underestimate the risks their children are experiencing online, according to new research from the London School of Economics and Political Science published today (Wednesday 21 July).

The survey UK Children Go Online| presents findings from a national, in-home, face to face survey of 1,511 young people aged 9-19 and a written questionnaire to 906 of their parents. Funded by an Economic and Social Research Council grant under the e-Society Programme, it found that among 9-19 year olds who go online at least once a week:

  • 57 per cent have come into contact with pornography online (compared with 16 per cent of parents who say their children have seen porn online)
  • 46 per cent claim to have given out personal information (5 per cent of parents realise this)
  • A third have received unwanted sexual or nasty comments (though only about 1 in 20 parents appear aware of this)

Sonia Livingstone, professor of social psychology based at LSE's Department of Media and Communications|, said: 'Parents need to be more aware of the risks their children are facing - especially as 8 per cent of young users who go online at least once a week say they have met face to face with someone they first met on the internet, 40 per cent say they have pretended about some aspect of themselves online, and 10 per cent say they seek out online porn on purpose.

'However, simply restricting children's internet access would deny them many of the benefits. Children are using the internet for a growing diversity of activities. Around 90 per cent use the internet for homework, 72 per cent for email and 70 per cent for games. Further, 55 per cent of 12-19 year old daily and weekly users have visited political or civic sites, and 25 per cent have sought personal advice online.'

She warned, however, that benefits are not equally shared, indicating a new digital divide in quality of use (as well as quality of access). Some children are not yet getting the most from the internet:

  • Half of weekly and daily users visited fewer than five sites in the previous week
  • 30 per cent of pupils have received no guidance from school on using the internet
  • Those who go online less experience fewer risks but also fewer benefits

'It is for others to make policy recommendations, but the survey does highlight the need to raise awareness through information campaigns to parents as well as children, and for parents and schools to talk more with children about their online experiences while also respecting children's internet privacy', Professor Livingstone said.

John Carr, internet adviser to the children's charity NCH who also acts as an adviser to the UK Children Go Online survey, said: 'This is a milestone study. Its size, its scope and its authorship give it a unique authority. It confirms some things that we already knew or suspected, and it provides many rich details which greatly expand our knowledge of children's use of the internet. The gap between what children are actually doing and what their parents think they are doing is a lot larger than many people would have imagined. It is a gap we must try to close.'

Stephen Carrick-Davies, CEO of the children's and internet charity Childnet International, a co-funder of the survey, said: 'This is the largest body of academic research on children's use of technology ever to happen in the UK. It is an enormous achievement to get children to reveal their thoughts, fears and preferences honestly, in a way that it has only been possible to do anecdotally before. The report demonstrates the urgent need for more internet literacy within education since too many young people do not apply critical thinking skills to online content. It also shows that while awareness of risks is now high among parents, there still remains a lot of confusion about what to do about the risks. Parents need more practical advice and guidance in getting the most out of the internet.'


Media contacts:

  • Professor Sonia Livingstone, LSE, 07791 663698 or 020 7955 7710, email: s.livingstone@lse.ac.uk  
  • Judith Higgin, LSE Press Office, 020 7955 7582, email: j.a.higgin@lse.ac.uk 
  • Co-author Dr Magdalena Bober, LSE, 020 7955 6005, email: m.bober@lse.ac.uk
  • John Carr, internet adviser to NCH, contact via NCH Press Officer Jennifer Walters, 020 7704 7106 or 07834 679071
  • Stephen Carrick-Davies, CEO of Childnet International, 07712 451859

Notes for editors:

The research was funded by an Economic and Social Research Council grant under the 'e-Society' Programme, with co-funding from AOL, Childnet International, Citizens Online, the Broadcasting Standards Commission (BSC) and the Independent Television Commission (ITC). The responsibilities of the BSC and the ITC have been assumed by Ofcom, the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK's communications industries, with responsibilities across television, radio, telecommunications and wireless communications services.

e-Society is the largest ever academic research programme to look at the impact of digital technologies on our society and institutions.

Children's access to the internet has grown rapidly - nearly all have access now, but social class still divides children in terms of location and quality of access. Among UK 9-19 year olds:

  • 74 per cent have access to the internet at home
  • 98 per cent have access somewhere
  • 24 per cent have broadband at home
  • 19 per cent have the internet in their bedroom
  • 24 per cent rely on school as main source of internet access

For further details on the UK Children Go Online survey and results, or to request an executive summary or full survey report (PDF), contact Dr Magdalena Bober (m.bober@lse.ac.uk| or 020 7955 6005). The report and summary will be available online from Wednesday 21 July at http://www.children-go-online.net| 

21 July 2004

Press cuttings

Sunday Times (24 October 2004)
Secret lives of high-tech teenagers
Reference to LSE research UK Children Go Online. 

Electric news.net (18 October 2004)
Irish parents worry over web content
Reference to research by Sonia Livingstone on children and the web in July. 

Independent Education (12 Aug 2004)
Surfing in dangerous waters  
An LSE study of child internet users found that 57 per cent had come into contact with pornography online, 46 per cent had given out personal information and a third had received sexual or nasty comments.

The Straits Times (26 July 2004)
Youngsters 'can't evaluate reliability of info on the net'
Children lack the skills needed to evaluate the reliability of information available on the Internet, says a new study by the London School of Economics and Political Science.

e-Marketer, US (23 July 2004)
Kids get an eyeful online 
The LSE survey UK Children Go Online, shows more than one-half of young people in the UK who go online at least once a week come into contact with pornography.

The Scotsman (22 July 2004)
Talks aim to tackle internet child porn

The Herald (22 July 2004)
New alert over net porn's perils for children

Daily Record (22 July 2004)
PM calls internet child porn summit

The Sun (22 July 2004)
50 per cent of kids see net porn

Guardian (21 July 2004)
Parents underestimate internet risks 
More than half of young people who use the internet have come into contact with internet porn, new LSE research published today showed. Comments from Sonia Livingstone, co-author of UK Children Go Online. 

We need a balanced approach to web regulation
While parents' lack of awareness of their children's use of the internet is worrying, says Sonia Livingstone, LSE, we must limit the risks while preserving the benefits 

Press Association (21 July 2004)
Children view porn online - study 

CBBC Newsround (21 July 2004)
Parents 'unsure how kids use net' 

ITV News (21 July 2004)
Parents must monitor web users 

Sky News (21 July 2004)
Children on the web 

Silicon.com (21 July 2004)
Porn pop-ups and spam hijacking UK kids' surfing 

E-consultancy.com (21 July 2004)
Parents ignorant of children porn risk

The Register (21 July 2004)
Parents clueless about kids online 

GMTV (21 July 2004)
How can you ensure your child's safety online?
Parents considerably under-estimate the risks their children are experiencing online, according to new research from the London School of Economics and Political Science. Also mentioned in the Daily Telegraph, The Western Mail and BBC News Online.

Daily Telegraph (21 July 2004)
BT blocks 20,000 attempts a day to access child porn

The Western Mail (21 July 2004)
Parents in the dark over web porn risk

BBC News Online (20 July 2004)
Parents 'under-estimate' net risks
Parents are still largely unaware of the risks their children take on the net, even though 75% of teenagers use the net at home, says a report. A LSE study suggested 57% had seen net porn but most stumbled on it accidentally via spam or pop-ups. Report author Professor Sonia Livingstone, LSE, quoted.