Results of a headline-grabbing survey into internet use by children and adolescents from seven to 19 years include much that is very positive, says one of its organisers.
But the mainstream media, says Liz Butterfield, spokeswoman for the Internet Safety Group, concentrated almost entirely on the negative aspects, particularly the 23% of children aged from seven to 10 who met face-to-face people they had first encountered on the internet.
Even that aspect was encouraging, Butterfield says, with the children and adolescents displaying good knowledge and — for the older children who were asked — good use of internet safety strategies. Over the whole sample, only 17.5% said they had no safety rules. Many of the children and young people had learned their safety strategies and other internet tips from their parents. This shows that internet use is becoming more of a family matter, which the ISG has previously indicated as a desirable objective, Butterfield says.
Wellington daily The Dominion carried a front-page report which could be read as suggesting a lack of use of safety strategy and some undesirable experiences to the seven-to-10-year-olds, Butterfield says. In fact, she notes, those children were not actually questioned on the safety strategies employed at particular meetings. The experiences and practices outlined come exclusively from the older participants (11 to 19 years).
The study, which was done in cooperation with researchers from the University of Auckland, indicates that the legendary adult predator masquerading as a child is a rarity. In the large majority of cases, the person met was close to the participant in age and was the age the subject expected them to be, meeting for the stated purpose. The largest category cited was for “friendship”.
“One or two [of the 11 to 19-year-olds] said the person they met was ‘fairly creepy’”, Butterfield says, “but there were no serious problems.”
Schools emerge as a significant factor in shaping children’s practices in internet use and their perception of the usefulness of online resources, Butterfield says.
In a survey last year, “Girls on the Net” (see Safety group wants internet think-tank), 22% of respondents said they had felt “unsafe or threatened” while on the internet compared with 7% in the latest survey. However, the first survey involved only females and was taken online and the second mixed-gender survey through printed forms distributed to schools.