Global Resource & Information Directory

It is widely acknowledged that research plays an important part in better understanding how children and families as a whole access and use new technology.  Over the past few weeks, a number of significant new reports have been published.  Here we provide a brief overview and encourage you to follow the links to find out more.

On November 14 – 15, FOSI convened its 6th Annual Conference at the Andrew Mellon Auditorium in Washington and used the opportunity launch the findings of  the report The Online Generation Gap – Contrasting Attitudes and Behaviors of Parents and Teens conducted by Hart research associates on behalf of FOSI.  The study aimed to provide a better understanding of teens’ and parents’ attitudes towards online safety, as well as perceptions of and self-reported use of tools to keep teens safe online.

The study was based on two nationwide surveys, the first involving 511 13 – 17 year-olds and the second of 500 parents of 13 – 17 year-olds.  What the study revealed was a striking disconnect between the perceptions of teens and parents on both the monitoring activity of parents and the actual knowledge parents had of their children’s online behavior.  Whilst only 39% of teens reported that their parents exercised any oversight or monitoring of their online activity, 84% of parents reported such monitoring – a 45% gap in perception.1

Similarly, whilst 62% of teens believed their parents to be somewhat informed about their online activity, 91% reported the same level of awareness: a perception gap of 29%.2  The report indicated that teens and parents are roughly in sync when it comes to the various usages of online and mobile platforms.  However, the greatest gaps emerge on social media and sharing sites such as Twitter and Tumblr.  Interestingly, parents were most aligned with their children on platforms such as online video games (no perception gap) and texting (3% perception gap).3  As these types of technology have been around for slightly longer than social media sites, the research suggest familiarity of use brings children and their parents more into line with each other.

The FOSI research findings were complemented by the findings from Michele Ybarra of Internet Solutions for Kids, who used the Annual Conference to highlight her latest research into cyberbullying set in the wider context of victimization.  Although the prevalence of news articles about cyberbullying would suggest that it is an increasing problem (some even point to an epidemic4), Ybarra’s research suggest that cyberbullying is still only experienced by a minority online.  Rates have remained flat over recent years and where it is experienced, the distress caused is less, rather than more severe than offline face-to-face bullying.5  So, whilst 39% of children surveyed reported bullying at school, only 17% reported bullying online.  Additionally, whilst 38% reported being extremely upset by bullying in school, only 15% reported the same level of distress from bullying online.6

Perhaps most interestingly, in contrast to the media characterization of cyberbullying being on the rise, Ybarra drew on a Growing up in Media study to show that between 2007 and 2010, cyberbullying rates were almost flat at around 20% reported for the children sampled.7

Whilst both these studies are focused on the United States, the FOSI conference also featured a research presentation from Europe’s foremost researcher on child Internet safety: Professor Sonia Livingstone.  Livingstone used the platform to highlight the work of the EU Kids Online network over the past year and draw some conclusions from the data for industry and policy makers.  EU Kids Online is a consortium of researchers from Universities across Europe who aim to provide a rigorous evidence base to support safer Internet policy and practice.  Drawing on interviews with 25,000 European 9 – 16 year-olds and their parents across 25 EU countries, the research has highlighted significant disparities in the perception of risk and use of reporting tools amongst children and control tools amongst parents.

According to the research, 26% of 9 – 16 year-olds (and 28% of 9 – 10 year-olds) have a public social network profile, indicating a low level of awareness towards the risks of predation and identity theft.8  Additionally, 17% of 11 – 16 year-olds have seen nudity or explicit content online and 21% have seen pro anorexia and/or self-harm content.9  On average, one in three parents use control tools across Europe, varying from the UK at the highest end (around half of parents) to Romania at the bottom end (one in ten parents).10

The wide disparities in the data can be attributed to the varying cultural, social and economic contexts in which the online issues are played out in in each country.  Professor Livingstone pointed to some overarching messages for industry, however: European children are encountering harmful content online and their parents are not all taking possible steps to intervene, so it is incumbent on industry to provide them with simple and robust tools which build safety and trust.

In the UK, Ofcom have released the annual update to their Media Literacy tracker.  The large-scale sample aims to give a detailed picture of the media consumption of children aged 5 – 15 across devices and media platforms including television, the Internet, mobile phones, games and radio.

In terms of media consumption, mobile and Internet usage continues to rise amongst children, and for the first time it has outstripped television in 12 – 15 year-olds.11  Texting is on the increase and is most marked among 12 – 15 year olds, who say they are sending an average of 193 texts every week (double the 2011 statistic of 91 a week).12  Findings on cyberbullying reflected those in the U.S as only a minority of children have had a negative experience online.  However, bullying was raised as a key concern and one in twenty 8 – 11 year-olds (4%) and 9% of 12 – 15 year-olds said they had been bullied online.  Girls aged 12 – 15 were more likely to have experienced bullying online than boys in the past year (13% vs. 5%).13

Finally, the report looked at parental attitudes and, on the whole, the picture was encouraging.  For Internet mediation parents adopted a mixed approach, encompassing regular conversations about rules and behavior, technical controls and direct ‘over the shoulder’ supervision.  85% of parents use at least one of these mediation techniques.  Only 7% of parents had taken no steps to mediate their child’s online activity.  However lack of awareness and ability was also cited as a problem: by 10% of parents of 5 – 15 year-olds in relation to PCs, laptops or netbooks, by 21% – 25% of parents for controls on fixed/mobile games consoles and by 35% of parents of 12 – 15 year-olds for controls on mobile phones.14

It is important that before we make assumptions about what measures need to be taken to keep kids safe online we take in what the research is telling us and base policies and practice on the actual needs and requirements of children.  The research highlights above are indicative of the wealth of high quality, regularly updated research which is taking place in this area across the globe, all of which you can access through GRID.

1 (last accessed November 28, 2012)
2 (last accessed November 28, 2012)
3 (last accessed November 28, 2012)
4 (last accessed November 28, 2012)
5 (last accessed November 28, 2012)
6 (last accessed November 28, 2012)
7 (last accessed November 28, 2012)
8 (last accessed November 28, 2012)
9 (last accessed November 28, 2012)
10 (last accessed November 28, 2012)
11 (last accessed November 28, 2012)
12 (last accessed November 28, 2012)
13 (last accessed November 28, 2012)
14 (last accessed November 28, 2012)

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