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'Net baffled' parents may reduce children's job and education prospects

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The lack of internet skills and experience among many UK parents is potentially harming their children's education and job prospects and could be placing them on the wrong side of a growing digital divide, says new research by academics at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

According to the research, many parents lack the skills to guide and support their children's internet use, yet it also demonstrated that internet-literate parents have internet-literate children.

Professor Sonia Livingstone, professor of social psychology in LSE's Media and Communication Department, said: 'Now that many young people rely on the internet for information, homework help and careers guidance, the more it matters that some of them are getting left behind. Not knowing how to best use the internet may have a negative impact on their education and employment opportunities.'

The report notes that a group it terms 'disengaged youth' are the least likely to engage with the net, least likely to have access at home and are less expert internet users. These young people find themselves 'on the wrong side' of the digital divide and are at risk of missing out on the many opportunities the internet has to offer.

These are some of the key findings of a major two year research project investigating 9-19 year olds' internet use, UK Children Go Online (UKCGO), carried out by Professor Sonia Livingstone and Dr Magdalena Bober of LSE. They analysed results 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. The research was funded by an Economic and Social Research Council grant under the e-Society Programme.

They found that children who are daily and weekly users have parents who also use the internet more often and are more expert. These tend to be middle-class teenagers, and those with home access. Greater online skills are associated with the take up of a wide range of online opportunities for children and young people, and a divide is growing not just of access but also centred on the quality of use. For some, the internet is a rich, stimulating resource, for others, a narrow, unengaging medium.

One way to help is to ensure that literacy initiatives are also targeted at parents. Fearful parents may take too rigorous an approach to restricting online access completely and thereby leave their children less aware of online risks, such as chat room dangers, when they do use the internet.

The report notes that one way parents can improve their awareness of the online risks faced by their children is by increasing supportive activities, such as going online together. This needs to be balanced with respect for their children's privacy, an approach that, according to the report, improves trust and ensures safety issues are more likely to be discussed in future.

The report also calls for action by the government and industry. Professor Livingstone said: 'Of the parents we surveyed, 18 per cent, nearly a fifth, said they don't know how to help their children use the internet safely. Many recognised their own responsibility - 67 per cent wanted more and better advice for parents, but 75 per cent also wanted more and better teaching guidance in schools. A total of 85 per cent of parents wanted to see tougher regulation of pornography.'

The report compared UK findings with other countries:

  • UK parents seem more restrictive than parents across the EU, where according to a recent Eurobarometer survey half of parents don't allow their children to give out personal information (in the UKCGO survey, this figure was 86 per cent of parents) and one third of parents ban chat rooms (this was two thirds of parents in the UKCGO survey).
  • However, UK parents are less restrictive than those in the US. According to a recent Pew Internet and American Life survey, 62 per sent of parents said they check up on their children's internet use afterwards, but only 41 per cent of parents in the UKCGO survey did.

Karen Thomson, CEO of AOL UK, one of the sponsors of this report, said: 'The internet, particularly as we move to broadband, is a massive potential driver of social change. It is important for a healthy society that no group is left behind, so we need to make sure that learning opportunities for adults and children are not ignored in the rush to deliver new technology benefits.'

UK Children go online|



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), the Independent Television Commission (ITC) and Ofcom. 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, to request a PDF or hard copy of the report (UK Children go Online: Final report of key project findings) or previous project reports, contact Dr Magdalena Bober (m.bober@lse.ac.uk| or 020 7955 6005) or see www.children-go-online.net| 

Press cuttings

Financial Times
Not tonight darling, I'm online (1 April 06)
With regard to the popularity of Internet pornography among young people, it is said that a 2003 study by LSE, UK Children Go Online, found that 75 per cent of 9 to 19-year olds have accessed the internet from home, and of them 57 per cent say they have seen pornography online.

Column WA133 (8 March 06)
Baroness Greenfield asked Her Majesty's Government: What assessment they have made of the results of the United Kingdom Children Go Online survey by Professor Sonia Livingstone of the London School of Economics; and whether they have plans to improve lessons on the use of the internet, searching the internet and how to judge the reliability of online information. [HL4416]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Lord Adonis): The United Kingdom Children Go Online survey is a valuable contribution to our understanding of children's use of the internet. The internet is an essential tool for learning in all subjects across the national curriculum. The ICT curriculum specifically requires pupils at key stages 3 and 4 to be taught to question the plausibility of information and to be discriminating in their use of information sources.

Barbados Advocate
Parents, children, schools and education (26 Sep 05)
Reference to research on children and the internet.

Sunday Times
Happiness is a networked family (18 Sep 05)
Reference to LSE research that suggest that one in three 9 to 19-year-olds now has more than one computer at home as parents shunt old. computers into children's bedrooms when the main family machine is replaced.
see: Archive| http://www.timesonline.co.uk (Subscription)

Tools in the daily battle (13 Sep 05)
Reference to LSE study into children and the internet.

Group urges parents to 'get with it' (12 Sep 05)
Reference to LSE study indicating that many parents lack the skills to guide and support their children's internet use and because of this they could be placing them on the wrong side of the digital divide. 

The Times
Letters to the editor (4 May 05)
Passing mention of the report compiled by the London School of Economics on the use of Internet among youngsters.

Media Life Magazine
Parental web cluelessness may be hurting kids (2 May 05)
Parents who are unable to teach their children to properly use the internet could be holding back their education and lessening their job prospects, according to a study by the London School of Economics

Digital Media Europe
Children, young people often encountering pornography online - report (29 April 05)
The two-year research project by the London School of Economics, based on interviews with over 1,500 children and 900 parents, confirms that internet use is widespread among 9-19 year-olds in the UK, being considerably higher than among adults.

Electric News Net
Children need net-savvy parents (29 April 05) 

PC Pro
Many British children are digital have-nots (29 April 05)

Public Technology Net
Net baffled parents may reduce children's job and education prospects (29 April 05)

Zee News, India
Net-illiterate parents failing children (28 April 05)

Internet-illiterate parents hold back kids (28 April 05)

WebPro News
Kids need internet savvy parents (28 April 05)

Learn about the web - it's good for your kids (28 April 05) 

'Net-illiterate' parents seen failing children (28 April 05)
LSE study finds job prospects could be reduced 

Net-illiterate parents hold back kids (28 April 05) 

Express India.com
Study shows net-illiterate parents are failing kids (28 April 05)

Egov Monitor
Report calls for new approach to online safety (28 April 05)


Anti-porn control (28 April 05)
According to a study by the London School of Economics, nine out of ten parents would like tougher laws regulating internet pornography, but parents who restrict internet use too much might leave them less aware of online risks.

BBC News Online
Net-illiterate failing children (28 April 05)
Internet-illiterate parents could leave their children on the wrong side of the digital divide, researchers have said. Many parents lack the skills to help their child's internet use, a London School of Economics study has said.

Parents want tougher net laws (28 April 05)
More than eight out of 10 parents want tougher laws against online pornography, a survey carried out by the London School of Economics claims. Comment from Professor Sonia Livingstone.

Working class children fall foul of digital divide (28 April 05)
A study on the internet use among more than 1,500 youngsters revealed that children from better-off backgrounds have greater access to the internet at home and were more likely to exploit its resources than those from poorer backgrounds. 

Dangerous liaisons (28 April 05)
Schools must teach pupils not to trust everything they come across on the internet.
Research released exclusively to Education Guardian reveals that children are routinely putting themselves at risk on the internet. Comment from Sonia Livingstone. 

Press Association
Parents want tougher laws on internet pornography (28 April 05)
Nearly nine out of 10 parents want tougher laws regulating internet pornography, according to research published today. British families seem to be more restrictive than their European counterparts when it comes to letting children use the internet, the London School of Economics study found.

Daily Mail
Half of all children are logging on to porn sites (27 April 05)
A two year study by the London School of Economics reveals that more than 50 per cent of the millions of youngsters using the Internet have viewed explicit material and than a quarter has been sent pornographic junk email.

28 April 2005