Leslie Haddon

Dr Leslie Haddon, senior researcher and visiting lecturer in the Department of Media and Communications at LSE, announces new research on children’s internet usage and its risks.

Safer Internet Day sees the combined efforts of educators, industry and child welfare experts to call for a better internet for kids worldwide. To ensure this effort is evidence-based, LSE researchers published two new reports today. These show that children are less worried about online risks when they are empowered to cope with them (EU Kids Online), but as children gain access to mobile devices, they encounter more risks (Net Children Go Mobile).

The EU Kids Online project’s short report ‘Preventive measures – How young children avoid online risks’ examines children’s accounts of the various ways in which they manage different types of problematic situations that they encounter on the internet. It is important for those involved in the safety of children online to understand children’s perceptions and accounts of what is risky or indeed harmful since these may differ from adults.

These new findings came from the qualitative analysis of 57 focus groups and 113 interviews with children aged nine to 16. In total, 349 children from nine different European countries (Belgium, Czech Republic, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Romania, Spain, and UK) were invited to explain what they perceive as problematic or harmful online, and what they do to prevent harm from occurring. Some of the findings show:

  • Children’s perceptions of online risks depend on their awareness of how online activities may turn into problematic situations.
  • About half of unpleasant online experiences happen on social networking sites such as Facebook.
  • Children acknowledge the potential risks of social networking sites, but they do not necessarily do something to avoid the risk. However, when they do feel capable of dealing with the risk, they are less worried about it.

The Net Children Go Mobile project, involving EU Kids Online members, also launched a report on a survey of risks specifically related to mobile use of the internet. The initial findings show that while smartphone and tablet users benefit from more online opportunities and along with this encounter more risks, they do not report more harmful experiences. Seven countries currently participate in the ongoing study (Demark, Italy, Romania, United Kingdom, Ireland, Portugal and Belgium) and it uses quantitative and qualitative methods to investigate.

As we celebrate Safer Internet Day 2014, it is imperative that our effort’s our evidence based and as this new evidence shows, the effort to empower kids online remains paramount.

 This article gives the views of the author, and does not represent the position of the LSE Media Policy Project blog, nor of the London School of Economics.