A study by the London School Economics, EU Kids Online, has categorised the UK as a 'high use, some risk' country as part of its research into children's use of the internet across Europe.
Published to coincide with the European Commission's Safer Internet Forum to be held this week, EU Kids Online has published recommendations based on its research.
The head of the project, Professor Sonia Livingstone of the LSE, said that new responses from policy makers are vital given the evidence that children are going online at ever-younger ages and that their use is increasingly mobile, so easily escaping adult supervision. The report aims to give policy makers up to date advice on how to educate and protect children against online risks such as bullying, pornography and making contacts with inappropriate people.
"Unbalanced headlines and confusion have contributed to the climate of anxiety that surrounds public discourse on children's use of new technology," said Professor Livingstone. "Panic and fear often drown out evidence. The emerging picture from the EU Kids Online evidence should guide schools, parents, government, civil society, industry, and children themselves in working together to balance the risks and opportunities presented by new technology. Our research establishes the evidence-based priorities for this renewed effort."
EU Kids Online has categorised the UK as a 'high use, some risk' country, an improvement on previous findings which identified it as 'high use, high risk'. It seems that the above efforts are bearing fruit, with risk estimates for UK children both lower than in several other European countries and also fairly low in absolute terms. This should not be grounds for complacency, however, for it shows the level of policy input required to reduce risk exposure among children. The EU Kids Online findings also reveal where new risks are emerging - notably, the UK is among the highest for estimates of excessive Internet use, so new efforts are required.
The study claims that UK children are more likely than many to go online via a mobile or handheld device, putting them in the vanguard of new risks associated with personal internet access and, equally, making protective oversight by their parents more difficult. The UK is also noteworthy for the very high proportion of children who access the internet at school, making primary and secondary schools particularly appropriate for the delivery of digital literacy and safety skills. On their social networking sites, most UK children report having their privacy settings set to 'private', but UK children have more online contacts than most, including some that are not known to them face to face.
Half of UK children use computers at home with some filtering software installed, more than in any other country surveyed. Since this has been a focus of safety promotions, it represents a success for such initiatives, though still half of children do not have such filtering software installed. However, some moderate exposure to risk may be necessary if children are not to have opportunities overly constrained and if they are to learn to cope and become resilient.