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Smartphones and tablets offer children more online opportunities, but expose them to more risks, finds new report

Smartphones and tablets enable children to engage in more online opportunities, but are also exposing them to more risks.

This is one of the findings of a new report from Net Children Go Mobile, a research project co-ordinated by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), published today to mark Safer Internet Day (Tuesday 11 February).

Copyright: Chris Beckett, Flickr creative commonsThe report finds that 51 per cent of children own a smartphone and 45 per cent use it daily to go online. Twenty per cent own a tablet, but 30 per cent use it on a daily basis to access the internet.

Smartphone and tablet users engage more in communication and entertainment activities, the report finds. They also have a higher level of digital skills, safety skills and communicative abilities. They are, however, also more likely to be exposed to online risks.

Bullying is still the most harmful risky experience, with two out of three children who have been bullied on- or offline claiming they have been 'very' or 'a bit' upset. Sexual risks are second: half of the children who have received sexual messages or seen sexual content of any kind (online and offline) have been concerned.

girlWithMobileWhile smartphone and tablet users are found to encounter more risks, however, they don't report more harmful experiences. "Mobile internet access and use is not, therefore, a factor of vulnerability" the researchers conclude.

Giovanna Mascheroni, who leads the European-wide project, says: "Exposure to online risks appears greater amongst children who also use mobile device to go online when compared to the 2010 EU Kids Online data. This is not a causal relationship, though. Rather, we observe the same correlation between opportunities and risks: older users and smartphone and tablet users benefit from more online opportunities, but are also exposed to more risks. As children go online more in a variety of contexts and from a wider range of devices, they also encounter more risks."

The report also finds that children are often unhappy with online content. While over four in ten (43 per cent) nine to 16 year-olds are very satisfied with the online provision available to them, younger children are more likely to express dissatisfaction about online content for children. Only 33 per cent of nine to ten year-olds said there were lots of good things for children their age to do online.

Children are most satisfied in the UK (57 per cent) and Ireland (51 per cent), and are unhappier in non English speaking countries - ranging from 40 per cent of Romanian children, to 37 per cent of Danish children and only 30 per cent of Italian children who are satisfied with online content for children.

Negative user generated content (NUGC), concerning hate, pro-anorexia, self-harm, drug taking or suicide, tops the list of risks that children are likely to encounter on the internet (31 per cent), followed by communicating with people never met face-to-face (£0 per cent) and seeing sexual images (29 per cent).

While 27 per cent of children report being bullied face-to-face or online, 14 per cent have experienced any form of cyber bullying on the internet or through mobile phones. Least common risks include receiving sexually suggestive messages (13 per cent) and offline meetings with online contacts (12 per cent). Children in Denmark and Romania are more exposed to risks than their peers in Ireland, Italy and the UK.

See Net Children Go Mobile for more.


For more information, contact Giovanna Mascheroni at Giovanna.mascheroni@unicatt.it or visit Net Children Go Mobile.

Notes for editors:

Net Children Go Mobile is co-funded by the Safer Internet Programme to investigate through quantitative and qualitative methods how the changing conditions of internet access and use - namely, mobile internet and mobile convergent media - bring greater, lesser or newer risks to children's online safety.

Net Children Go Mobile conducted a face-to-face, in-home survey among 2,500 nine to 16 year-old internet users and their parents in Denmark, Ireland, Italy, Romania and the UK

Participating countries include Denmark, Italy, Romania, the UK, Belgium, Ireland and Portugal, the three latter joining the project on a self-funded basis. A report including Belgium and Portugal will follow in Spring.

Safer Internet Day is organised by Insafe each year to promote safer and more responsible use of online technology and mobile phones, especially amongst children and young people across the world.

11 February 2014