10 Myths about Keeping children safe online published today

Researchers today (22nd October 2011) published a list of the top 10 myths about internet safety for children to show how many peoples’ knowledge of online dangers are out of date.


EU Kids Online  

Researchers today (22nd October 2011) published a list of the top 10 myths about internet safety for children to show how many peoples’ knowledge of online dangers are out of date.

Among common mistakes is the belief that putting a PC in the family living room will help keep young people away from risky behaviour. In fact, say the team from EU Kids Online, children find it so easy to go online at a friend’s house or on a smartphone that this advice is out of date. Parents are better advised to talk to their children about their internet habits or join them in some online activity.

Another common myth highlighted in the study is that children know more than adults about the digital world – in fact only just over one in three youngsters are sure that they know more than their parents.

The top 10 Myths list is published as part of the final report of EU Kids Online – a research project based at the London School of Economics and Political Science which surveyed 25,000 children (1000 in Ireland) and their parents across Europe to understand where the true online risks and opportunities lie. Funded by the European Commission’s Safer Internet Programme, the project aims to give policy makers the best possible advice on how to educate and protect against risks such as bullying, pornographic or inappropriate content and making contacts with unsuitable people in the real world.

Professor Sonia Livingstone, who headed the project, said: “Most people have concerns about the internet and the effects it can have on a new digital generation of children. But are they concerned about the right things? ‘Our study showed that in general they are not. Often their view of how children behave online is out of date and needs updating – that’s why we included the list of Top 10 myths in our report. For example, while parents worry more about ‘stranger danger’, children find cyberbullying the most upsetting risk. Also, it’s interesting to note that the parents who are most worried have children who encounter no more risks than children of parents who aren’t worried.

“Overblown and distorted views of how children in Ireland use the Internet have amplified the threat and in some cases caused panic and fear. Decisions on how best we can help children to make the most of the opportunities so obviously afforded by new technologies need to be taken in a rational and informed context. The EU Kids Online project provides this.” Simon Grehan, National Centre for Technology in Education.

“This project has created a rich and robust evidence base that will inform how schools, parents, government and industry work together to balance the risks and opportunities presented to children by new technology.” Brian O’Neill, Dublin Institute of Technology.

A conference to mark publication of the study’s final report is being held at LSE on Thursday and Friday (22 and 23 Sept).

The top 10 myths about children’s  online risks

1 Digital natives know it all.
Only 36 per cent of 9-16-year-olds say it is very true that they know more about the internet than their parents. This myth obscures children’s needs to develop digital skills.

2 Everyone is creating their own content
The study showed that only one in five children had recently used a file-sharing site or created an avatar, half that number wrote a blog. Most children use the internet for ready-made content.

3 Under 13s can’t use social networking sites
Although many sites (including Facebook) say that users must be aged at least 13, the survey shows that age limits don’t work – 38 per cent of 9-12-year-olds have a social networking profile. Some argue age limits should be scrapped to allow greater honesty and protective action.

4 Everyone watches porn online.
One in seven children saw sexual images online in the past year. Even allowing for under-reporting, this myth has been partly created by media hype.

5 Bullies are baddies
The study shows that 60 per cent who bully (online or offline) have themselves been bullied. Bullies and victims are often the same people.
6 People you meet on the internet are strangers.

Most online contacts are people children know face-to-face. Nine per cent met offline people they’d first contacted online – most didn’t go alone and only one per cent had a bad experience.

7 Offline risks migrate online
This is not necessarily true. While children who lead risky offline lives are more likely to expose themselves to danger online, it cannot be assumed that those who are low-risk offline are protected while online.

8 Putting the PC in the living room will help
Children find it so easy to go online at a friend’s house or on a smartphone that this advice is out of date. Parents are better advised to talk to their children about their internet habits or join them in some online activity.

9 Teaching digital skills reduces online risk
Actually the more digital skills a child has, the more risks they are likely to encounter as they broaden their online experience. What more skills can do is reduce the potential harm that risks can bring.

10 Children can get around safety software
In fact, fewer than one in three 11-16 year-olds say they can change filter preferences. And most say their parents’ actions to limit their internet activity is helpful.

The report makes a series of recommendations to governments, industry, children, parents and teachers which range from a call for more user-friendly parental controls and online safety features to ensuring children also lead a rich life away from the computer. From an Irish policy point of view, a number of priorities emerge, which include:

  • A focus on supporting digital literacy initiatives that target both skills development and also encourages the broadening of online internet activities. A number of pilot projects in Irish schools that seek to foster digital creativity should be expanded as part of a national digital literacy initiative. Given the importance of the IT sector in Ireland’s economy with many of the world’s leading technology firms locating their European headquarters in Ireland, it is essential that infrastructure for education and policies to support maximising information society opportunities for all go to the top of the policy agenda.

  • Awareness raising also has to foster better public awareness of digital literacy. In particular, parental awareness and capacity to provide social support in the digital world should be emphasised. As in many other countries, public debate is often informed by sensationalist media reporting. The current high levels of restrictive mediation suggest that parents feell ill-equipped to support young people online. Here, the media, including public service broadcasting, can play a positive role supporting content creation.

  • Finally, greater coordination between the various public agencies and non-governmental organisations is required in order to successful bridge the skills and knowledge gaps revealed in the EU Kids Online survey. The responsibility for promoting media literacy, for instance, currently vested in the broadcast regulator needs to be expanded to encompass the online world. Similarly, educational agencies need to be adequately resourced to provide the necessary expertise, infrastructural development and leadership in developing initiatives in an area of strategic national importance.

Research teams from 26 countries participate in the EU Kids Online network. The IRELAND team is based in the Centre for Social & Educational Research, at the Dublin Institute of Technology and at the National Centre for Technology in Education.

Brian O'Neill PhD is Head of the School of Media at the Dublin Institute of Technology, and a researcher in media literacy and new media technologies. He is the author of reports and articles on media policy in relation to children, technology and new media. He is a member of the Digital Radio Cultures in Europe research group.

Up to five areas of expertise: media literacy; Safer Internet programmes; digital literacy; ICT in schools; digital rights

Simon Grehan is the Internet Safety Coordinator at the National Centre for Technology in Education (NCTE). He is actively involved in researching children's use of the Internet, tracking emerging technologies, and raising awareness of the risks associated with their use. Simon is responsible for Webwise, the NCTE's Internet Safety initiative.

1. The EU Kids Online project aims to enhance knowledge of European children’s and parents’ experiences and practices regarding risky and safer use of the internet and new online technologies, and thereby to inform the promotion of a safer online environment for children.

2. Countries included in EU Kids Online are: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and the UK.

3. The survey findings are based on an in-home, face to face interview with a random stratified sample of children across Europe, and full methodological details can be found in the report and on the project website at www.eukidsonline.net

More>> For more information and to download a PDF version of the full report visit www.eukidsonline.net