Weblog on the Internet and public policy, journalism, virtual community, and more from David Brake, a Canadian academic, consultant and journalist
22 July 2004

The report on children’s Internet use I “mentioned earlier”:http://blog.org/archives/000905.html has now been made available in full.

UK Children Go Online is an excellent overview of kids’ online experiences in Britain and I am pleased to see it taking a very sensible balanced view of the risks and benefits of childrens’ online use. From the conclusion:

one cannot simply recommend greater monitoring of children by parents. From children’s point of view, some key benefits of the internet depend on maintaining some privacy and freedom from their parents, making them less favourable particularly to intrusive or hidden forms of parental regulation. Moreover, the internet must be perceived by children as an exciting and free space for play and experimentation if they are to become capable and creative actors in this new environment.

I am a little disappointed, however, that the press release leads on “parents underestimating risks”:http://personal.lse.ac.uk/bober/PressReleaseJuly04.pdf and lo and behold the “BBC’s coverage”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/3910319.stm doesn’t mention anything about the possible benefits of childrens’ online use or the divide that was found in the ‘quality’ of their use.

It is true that, ’57 per cent have come into contact with pornography online (compared with 16
per cent of parents who say their children have seen porn online)’ but as “Josephine Fraser”:http://fraser.typepad.com/edtechuk/2004/07/lse_uk_children.html points out a large problem with this survey is that it’s investigating ‘children’ between the ages of 9 and 19 (of course the data is usually split by age in the body of the report but not often in the summaries).

If you are concerned mainly about under-12s exposed to porn (for example) the proportion drops to 21 percent and this doesn’t indicate how often this exposure happened or how ‘severe’ it is. Would a single exposure to the promotional front page of a porn site in a few years of a ten-year-old’s surfing really be traumatic? Doesn’t it depend on what kind of stuff is considered pornographic (the report does not provide a definition)? I presume such sites don’t normally display really hard-core stuff on their front page without payment and young kids are exposed to soft-core images like that in lots of other ways. It’s true that 20% of 12-19 year olds say they have seen porn on the Internet five or more times but 17% of the same kids say they have seen it that often on TV.

Likewise it may be true that, ‘8 per cent of young users who go online at least once a week say they have met face to face with someone they first met on the internet’ but of those only 1% – one person (!) age unknown – said they didn’t enjoy the experience.

I guess as the report concludes what you see in it depends on your prior expectations and I am a ‘glass half full’ person more keen to ensure that kids have the opportunity to become digitally literate without having parents and teachers excessively limiting their chance to explore. And of course I am not the parent of an Internet-surfing child – if I were my views might be different!

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