Disadvantaged children get less help and support to protect them from the dangers of being online, researchers have found.
Children whose parents are less educated or do not use the internet themselves and children from disability or minority groups are among those more likely to be at risk online or more upset when they come across worrying content, such as violence, sexual material or bullying.
Although the differences are small (some five per cent increase in risk among the disadvantaged groups) they are consistent across most types of risk examined.
Yet disadvantaged children tend also to be the least likely to get access to information and guidance about living a safer life online. This shows that safety advice and resources need to be better targeted at the disadvantaged, say the researchers from the EU Kids Online project, based at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Their study, Disadvantaged children and online risk, assessed several different types of disadvantage among 25,000 young people and their families from across Europe. These included educational and economic disadvantage, psychological vulnerability and social disadvantage.
For example, a quarter of all children said their parents did not use the internet. These children tended to have lower digital skills and more likely to be upset when they found disturbing images or other content online (a four per cent increase compared to all children). Their parents were less confident in supporting their children online.
The top third of those children who appear to be more psychologically vulnerable reported more online risks than their peers and becoming more upset by them when they occur (a three to 11 per cent increase depending on the risk).
Six per cent of children have a disability (mental or physical) and they reported feeling more at risk on the internet – especially in relation to the risks of inappropriate contact, negative content and data misuse (five per cent increase).
EU Kids Online makes a series of recommendations to online providers in the study. It suggests finding ways of increasing the confidence of parents and helping them to build up their knowledge of the digital world, providing safety information through a wider range of channels, and understanding that while girls need more support than boys to cope with sexual content online, boys and girls equally need support when it comes to meeting new online contacts offline. Boys need more encouragement to discuss bullying with their peers (16 per cent more girls than boys had talked to a friend).
Professor Sonia Livingstone, director of EU Kids Online, said: “It’s vital to target resources at those who need them most and they can often be the hardest to reach. In many cases they will suffer from a knowledge gap which means that the more guidance and help is made available, the more it is taken up by those who are already knowledgeable and who need it less.
This report identifies some of the complex types of disadvantage among children in this field and suggest ways for internet providers and those who set policy to start tackling those disadvantages.”
EU Kids Online is funded by the EC Safer Internet Foundation. The research team surveyed 25,142 children aged 9-16 and their parents in 25 countries.
Disadvantaged children and online risk by Sonia Livingstone, Anke Görzig and Kjartan Ólafsson is available, along with all of the project’s research findings, at www.eukidsonline.net
For more information contact Professor Sonia Livingstone firstname.lastname@example.org
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12 October 2011