On the occasion of the international Safer Internet Day, we are publishing the EU Kids Online 2020 research report. The report sums up the results of an extensive research that mapped online behaviour of children aged 9-16 years old in 19 countries. Over 25 thousand children took part in this unique research, making it the biggest endeavour of its kind in the world.
Among other findings, the research shows that the amount of time children spend on the internet has doubled in the past decade. This increase is linked to swift development and availability of smartphones and other mobile devices that enable children to be online every day. Compared to results of the previous research from 2010, most countries show double increase in time spent on the internet - it went from one to nearly three hours in Spain, from about two to three and a half hours in Norway, and from almost two to nearly three hours in Czech Republic.
“Online activities are neither inherently positive nor negative. A certain type of activity can have different effects on each child. It is important to take this into consideration especially at times when media exaggerate problems experienced by children online. This can induce unnecessary anxiety among parents,” points out David Šmahel, who coordinated the study.
The findings also show that children suffer from relatively few of the negative symptoms related to excessive internet use. Less than 2 percent of children showed all symptoms of excessive internet use in all studies countries. In Czechia, these amounted to 0.5 percent of children.
However, this does not mean children on the internet are not subjected to risks. For example, Czech children are at the top of statistics when it comes to receiving messages with sexual content. According to the research, those messages were received by 34 percent of Czech children. The percentage was higher only in Flanders, Belgium, where 39 percent of children reported receiving sexually charged messages. On the other hand, this phenomenon was the least common in Italy, where only 8 percent of children encountered it. “It is important to add that these messages can be both solicited and unsolicited. A similar form of communication is a part of development for many children. Whereas in the past children used to exchange messages in a different manner, now this is being done with the help of modern technologies. That, however, does not mean that adolescents should stay oblivious to the results of these exchanges. First and foremost, it is important to differentiate between communicating with strangers and friends or partners – this behavior does not have to be necessarily rare or wrong,” said David Šmahel.
According to the authors of this research, the risks and problems that the internet poses are often overestimated. Parents should pay more attention to positive aspects. “Unfortunately, this manifests itself in the way people raise children in respect to the internet. Oftentimes, they will use restrictions. While those can mitigate some of the internet’s harmful effects, they will also prevent children from developing their own digital competences. This can become an issue, especially when parents do not exercise proactive upbringing - that is discussing child’s internet activities or helping them deal with situations online and providing internet and technological education,” points out Hana Macháčková, one of the authors of the report.
Compared to other countries, Czech children are also exposed to relatively high proportion of messages with harmful content – 18 percent of them were exposed to information about self-harm (with 10 percent being the European average) and 25 percent encountered messages attacking some groups of people or individuals (European average is 17 percent). Moreover, Czech children often encounter hateful messages with only Polish children being more commonly exposed to those. According to the researchers, this is an argument for increased attention on the side of schools, teachers and educational policy creators.