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A recent report published by EU Kids Online offers a country classification focussing at opportunities, risks, harm and parental mediation of children’s internet use. Here is the executive summary. The full report can be downloaded here where you also can find a factsheet for each participating country.
This report updates and deepens the understanding of cross-national differences among the countries surveyed in EU Kids Online. Where the previous classification was based simply on the percentage of children in each country who used the internet daily, and who had encountered one or more risks, this report examines the range and type of online opportunities, risks and harm experienced by the children in each country. It also takes into account the ways in which parents mediate or regulate their children’s internet use in each country.
Clusters of countries are most clearly distinguished in terms of sexual content risks. Children who are bullied or who giveaway personal data are uniformly distributed across the countries. Using these and many other factors, the report identifies four country clusters overall: unprotected networkers, protected by restrictions, semi supported risky gamers, and supported risky explorers.
This new analysis reveals that differences within countries are substantially larger than differences between countries, whether measured in terms of online opportunities, risk of harm or forms of parental mediation. The advantage of such pan-European similarities is that it makes sense for policy makers in one country to learn from the best practice initiated in another.
On the other hand, the analysis also makes it clear that, to anticipate the online experience of any individual child, a host of factors must be considered – merely knowing where they live is insufficient as a guide to the opportunities or risks they may experience.
Findings detailed in this report give hope that parents’ mediation strategies will develop positively and constructively alongside the use of their children’s internet use. Nevertheless, based on the patterns of children’s online risks, harm and parenting practices across Europe there is the possibility of a more negative pattern developing in some countries.
There is concern that both too much parental restriction in the protected by restrictions cluster and the lack of support for children’s online use in the unsupported networkers cluster might lead to higher levels of harm when risk is encountered.
Supported risky explorers (Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden)
This cluster has more children who are experienced social networkers. They encounter more sexual risks online and their more parents are actively involved in guiding their children’s internet use.
Parental mediation might co-evolve with risk and opportunity taking by children: as children gain more experience and encounter more risks, parents engage more actively in safeguarding their internet use. There is, however, a relatively small group of vulnerable children in these countries that experience similar levels of risk to their peers but lack the parental mediation and opportunities also enjoyed by their peers.
Policy makers should therefore support parents and schools, and stimulate industry players to enhance responsible practices in relation to internet safety, including seeking to reach and support those few vulnerable children may ‘get lost’ in an environment full of experts.
Semi-supported risky gamers (Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Poland and Romania)
In these countries, children encounter only moderate online opportunities, mainly focused on entertainment, and games in particular. Yet they still experience relatively high levels of risk and harm: some encounter a specific risk, others a range of risks.
Parents undertake rather diverse types of mediation in these countries, including active and restrictive forms of mediation, although it seems these are relatively ineffective. This may be because the online opportunities and associated digital skills have only emerged relatively recently in these countries, so supportive structures and good practice are not yet established.
Although parents seem to be trying strategies across the board, further investigation is needed to understand why levels of risk are relatively high and what further interventions would be beneficial to encourage opportunities and reduce harm.
Protected by restrictions (Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Turkey and the UK)
Children’s online experiences in this cluster of countries is characterised by relatively low levels of risk probably because internet use is also more limited and largely restricted to practical activities. While parents might be glad that their restrictive mediation practices prevent risk, it does seem that they may miss out on many of the online opportunities.
The question for policy makers, parents and educators in these countries is whether opportunity uptake can be increased while simultaneously limiting more extensive risk of harm. It is possible that this could be achieved by a move away from more restrictive forms of mediation towards more active mediation patterns.
Such an approach would have to acknowledge that risk will thereby result, and further investigation is needed to see whether children can become sufficiently resilient to cope with risk when they encounter it.
Unprotected networkers (Austria, Hungary, Lithuania and Slovenia)
Finally, there is a cluster of countries where children’s experiences are fairly narrow but potentially problematic: the social aspects of Web 2.0 seem to have been taken up with gusto and the children subsequently encounter risks but not as much harm, from being in contact with these opportunities.
Here the challenge is that parents are not as involved in their children’s internet use as in the supported risky explorers cluster that they otherwise resemble, probably because, as with the semi-supported risky gamers, the internet is a relatively recent addition in many families, especially for the parents.