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Are some European children more at risk than others online?

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Almost a fifth of European parents, including UK parents, believe their child has encountered harmful or illegal content on the internet.

A new project launched today [Tuesday 6 February 2007] gives a picture of children's internet use across Europe, and perceptions of risk and regulations in place within families.

EU Kids Online is the first systematic European comparison of research on children and young people's experience of the Internet and online technologies. It is funded by the EC Safer Internet Plus Programme.

Professor Sonia Livingstone, director of EU Kids Online, based at LSE, said: 'There is a growing body of research showing that the internet can be risky for children and teenagers, though it also has lots of benefits. Compared with other European countries, British parents are aware of this, but they still need more guidance, especially as they don't always know what their children are up to and because the risks themselves are changing all the time.'

Dr Leslie Haddon, co-director of EU Kids Online at LSE, said: 'In this project, we are collecting all the research findings across Europe on this important topic in one place, so we can begin to compare findings across countries. But so far, this makes it obvious that a lot more research is needed.'

Today's launch is part of the Europe-wide efforts to raise awareness of internet risk and safety issues for children through Safer Internet Day 2007

What does the research show?

By comparing available research in 18 countries, over 200 separate projects have been identified and linked to a publicly searchable repository. This provides a new and valuable resource for researchers, policy makers and the public.

Research highlights include:

The 2006 Eurobarometer survey shows large variation across countries:

  • 18 per cent European parents/carers believe their child (under 18) has encountered harmful or illegal content on the internet.
  • British parents are less likely to believe this than parents in Denmark, the Netherlands or Sweden, or those in Poland or Slovenia - possibly those most advanced in and those newest to the internet have the greatest concerns.
  • From comparing three very different countries, it seems British parents claim to regulate their children's use of Internet more: 62 per cent of UK parents have rules about not giving out personal information online, but only 35 per cent of Polish parents and 14per cent of Portuguese parents do so.
  • Paradoxically, UK parents also seem to have more confidence in their children: 75 pre cent thought that their children would know what to do if a situation on the Internet made them feel uncomfortable (figures for Poland and Portugal are 56 per cent and 48 per cent).
  • Possibly, safety awareness raising efforts in the UK have been more effective than in some other countries, as these have been coordinated across multiple stakeholders (government, child protection, industry, parenting organisations, etc).

The 2006 Mediappro project found internet use varies greatly across Europe:

  • 50 per cent of British children (aged 12-18) claim to use Instant messaging, rising to 73 per cent in Belgium, 82 per cent in Estonia and 88 per cent in Poland.
  • In Denmark, 7 per cent of children claim to have a blog, while the figures for the UK and Poland are 14 per cent and 18 per cent respectively, rising to 35 per cent in Belgium.
  • School rules also differ: 57 per cent of Danish children claim their schools have rules governing Internet use, compared to 73 per cent of Polish children, and two thirds in the UK.

What don't we know?

  • We still don't know whether differences in European children's experiences reflect genuine variations in risk or, instead, differences in how risks are perceived by parents and others.
  • There is almost no research on whether children and young people have been exposed to racist, violent or gory material, or to gambling or self-harm sites.
  • However, the 2006 Irish Webwise survey of 9-16 year olds found 26per cent had visited hateful sites, 35 per cent had visited pornographic sites, 23per cent had received unwanted sexual comments online, and 7 per cent had met an online contact offline.

In the UK, there are considerable grounds for concern:

  • Ofcom's 2006 research shows 16per cent 8-15 yr olds have come across something 'nasty, worrying or frightening' online.
  • The UK Children Go Online project found in 2004 that 12-19 year olds who take communication risks online tend to be more likely to be risk-takers who are less satisfied with their lives offline.

In the USA, some risks are increasing:

  • The Online Victimization of Youth report found increased exposure to sexual material among 10-17 year olds (34per cent compared with 25per cent in 2003) and online harassment (9per cent vs. 6per cent in 2003), though they also found reduced unwanted sexual solicitations (13per cent vs. 19per cent). In that survey, 4per cent had been asked for nude/sexually explicit photos of themselves online.

But maybe children are getting more 'internet literate':

  • The SAFT survey in Norway and Ireland found that in 2006, children were more critical of the internet and gave out less personal information than in 2003.
  • Directing more safety awareness at children themselves may be the best way forward, since parents often don't know just what their children are doing online.

Ends

Contact

  • Professor Sonia Livingstone, Department of Media and Communications, LSE, s.livingstone@lse.ac.uk
  • Judith Higgin, LSE Press Office, 020 7955 7582.

Background information

Press cuttings

BBC Magazine
Tangled web (8 Feb 07)
A separate study by the London School of Economics claimed, this week, six in 10 children in the UK were regularly being exposed to porn, mostly as a result of viewing explicit websites accidentally. The study helped launch a Europe-wide research project looking into how young people use the net, called EU Kids Online.

The Scotsman
Parents warned over secret language of net paedophiles (7 Feb 07)
Sonia Livingstone, professor of social psychology at the London School of Economics, said 'Children have something valuable to tell them and are usually quite excited about what they are doing online. 'Parents could say, 'I'd love to see you on MySpace' or 'Show me how you do that' or 'How many friends have you got?' It's a way of having a conversation rather than checking up.'

Evening Standard
Schools and hospitals should charge, says Clarke  (7 Feb 07)
Hospitals and schools should be able to introduce charges as a way of funding steadily growing demands for public services, Charles Clarke said last night, at a speech given at LSE.

Daily Mail

Daily Telegraph
60pc of children exposed to online pornography (6 Feb 07)
Nearly six in 10 children in Britain, some as young as nine, are being exposed to pornography mostly as a result of viewing explicit websites accidentally, an expert warned today. Sonia Livingstone, a professor of social psychology at LSE, said there was 'no evidence' that filtering and blocking software was working, partly because parents often had no idea how to use it.  Her comments coincide with the launch of an European-wide research project, based at the LSE, examining the dangers posed to children.

Social Rights Bulgaria
New European project about online risks for children (6 Feb 07)
EU Kids Online is a new project to conduct the first systematic European comparison of research on children and young people's experience of the Internet and online technologies. Professor Sonia Livingstone, Director of EU Kids Online at the LSE says, 'There is a growing body of research showing that the internet can be risky for children and teenagers, though it also has lots of benefits.'

6 February 2007

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