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Webwise 2009 Survey of Children’s Use of the Internet in Ireland (Publication)


To mark Safer Internet Day, the National Centre for Technology in Education publishes results of a survey of 860 children between the ages of 9 and 16 years old in 37 schools around Ireland. It is three years since the last NCTE Survey and this year’s results demonstrate many significant changes in Children’s Internet Use since then, particularly in the frequency and nature of children’s Internet use.
“The results demonstrate the confidence and sophistication of children’s Internet use rises with increased exposure and supports the belief that children are more likely to benefit than suffer or come to harm through increased engagement with technology.” Jerome Morrissey, Director NCTE.

Many of the aspects of Internet use that have increased since 2006 are those that have traditionally been considered risky or unsafe behaviour, such as the use of Instant Messaging (IM); providing personal information (their full name and email address) on the Internet; and a significant increase in the proportion of children who are meeting people in real life that they first met on the Internet. Younger children are also starting to use the Internet earlier and more frequently.

However, the increase in these behaviours has also been accompanied by significant increases in the following: the perceived knowledge of parents; the likelihood of children to block or ignore requests for personal information; the likelihood of children (particularly younger children) to talk to their parents about requests of this nature. Thus, contrary to what many stakeholders may have feared, the increases in internet use have been mirrored by an increase in (children & parent’s) knowledge and more sophisticated (and safer) Internet use.

Since 2006, Internet use and online interaction has simply become a more ‘normal’ feature of children’s social interactions, less likely to be seen as distinct from other forms of social interaction. For instance, “social networking”, whether via specific sites, such as Bebo, or IM applications, are wholly conventional forms of interaction in 2008 used on a daily basis by many children, particularly teenagers.

The vast majority of children who have met people in real life that they first met online have had positive experience at these meetings and many have met 5 or more people in real life that they first met online. “It is vital that Internet safety programmes or strategies reflect the reality that children experience online. Otherwise, safety advice will be undermined by the disparity between what children are being taught and what they experience themselves online on a daily basis.

Strategies based on preventing online use are likely to be unsustainable, as the survey shows that most children, even younger children, can access the Internet without their parents’ knowledge. Educating children, particularly younger children, and encouraging appropriate online behaviour in independent use is likely to prove safer for children in the long-term.” Simon Grehan, Internet Safety Project Officer, NCTE.

Key Findings:

• For a number of the core variables related to children’s Internet use, such as PC ownership or use and access to an internet connection, the 2008 survey shows some consistency with 2006 results.
• For example, 94% of children aged between 9-16 years questioned in this survey have used a PC or computer. 7% of those aged 9-12 said that they had not used a PC, compared to 3% of those aged 13-16. Only 3% did not have access to a PC at home, compared to 7% in 2006.
• However, there have been significant changes since 2006 in the nature of children’s Internet use. For example, a greater proportion of children are accessing the Internet from home, and more frequently.
• It would also appear that many of the online behaviours and aspects of Internet use that have increased since 2006 have typically been considered as risky or unsafe behaviour. There have been significant increases in the use of IM messaging, providing personal information on the Internet and, perhaps of greater concern, the proportion of children who are meeting people in real life that they first met on the Internet.
• However, the results of the survey are actually very encouraging for those concerned with Internet safety. They show that children appear to be significantly more aware of both the risks and the correct response to such risks than they were in 2006. Equally, parents are perceived by children as having significantly more knowledge about the Internet in 2008 than they were in 2006.
• From an Internet safety perspective, one of the recurring themes from this year’s survey is that experienced Internet users, particularly older children and children with older siblings are more likely than younger children or those without older siblings to follow recommended practices for dealing with internet risks, such as blocking unwanted comments from other Internet users rather than responding to them.
• 35% of children were prepared to disclose their full name and 32% their email address over the Internet, compared to 27% in 2006. 32% would also publish a photograph of themselves on the Internet.
• Encouragingly, it would appear that, compared to 2006, children are less likely to disclose all the information they are asked for; more likely to talk to their parents about requests of this nature and more likely to take steps to block the sender, which is the recommended practice.
• 45% of teens claimed to use internet messaging services every day or almost every day, compared to one-in-ten in 2006.
• 23% of children who engage in chatting on the Internet aged between 9 and 16 years have someone in real life that they first met on the Internet. This is a significant increase from 7% in 2006 and 4.5% in 2003. Most of those who went to meetings said that one of their friends went with them to their first meeting, while only 7% said that they went alone, compared to a quarter in 2006.
• Mothers (64%) and then schools (58%) are the main sources for receiving Internet safety information in the past. In addition, teenagers express a greater preference for getting their Internet safety information from school (52%) than their parents (45%) and younger children are more likely to express a preference for receiving Internet safety information from their mother (59%). Finally, children of all ages preferred both parents and school to friends as sources for Internet safety information.

Click here to download the publication

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© COPYRIGHT Office for Internet Safety 2008