Report highlights parental concern over internet use

20 Oct 2004

Although Irish children have access to a widening range of technologies, the internet is still the one that concerns parents far more than any other medium, new data from the Internet Advisory Board (IAB) has shown.

Amárach Research, which compiled the information on behalf of the IAB, carried out a survey of 317 parents and children who have access to the internet at home in order to ascertain patterns to access and use of new technological media.

The research revealed a rise in both the availability and use of several different technologies used by children. However, the internet is the most widely used technology among all children between the ages of 10 and 14 years. Usage patterns generally increase in line with age; for example slightly over half (57pc) of the 10 years olds in the sample use a mobile phone, compared to 93pc of 14 year olds. Other popular technologies include video recorders, DVD players and games consoles, as well as the traditional telephone. Satellite and digital TV were treated as separate categories but with both around the 30pc mark, neither was as widely used as the other categories, which were cited in 80pc or more of the responses.

Compared with a similar Amárach survey conducted in 2001, the number of children accessing the internet every day children was lower, with the same trend true of weekly access. The next most frequently used technology is cable television – used daily by 75pc of 10 to 14 year olds – and mobile phones (60pc).

Internet browsing on the PC remains parents’ main source of concern in terms of access to unsuitable material by children. The survey found that 88pc of parents monitored their child’s online activities through checking phone bills, monitoring websites visited and browser file histories; in addition 42pc of all home PCs have password-protected internet access. Parental awareness of chatrooms is increased from 2001, up 7pc to 96pc. However, this is mitigated by the fact that just 5pc of children polled for this year’s research said they had ever visited a chatroom – a drop of 30pc from the previous survey.

Almost half of the parents surveyed (47pc) considered the internet to be high risk, far ahead of digital and satellite TV (28pc and 20pc respectively). Video and TV were considered the next most high-risk categories (17pc each) with just 13pc of parents saying that they thought mobile phones were high risk. The report also noted that parents don’t appear to be aware that accessing the internet through other devices besides the PC – such as games consoles or mobile phones – is possible. “Content is clearly the key concern in relation to online usage, but the content that may be available through other technologies does not yet raise concerns,” the report said.

Unprompted, 77pc of parents said they considered pornographic images as being content most likely to cause harm to children, followed by information about sex (38pc), violent images (34pc) and details about drugs (25pc). The report noted a marked contrast between issues that parents are aware of – and which emerged unprompted – and those that they did not consider until asked. When given specific suggestions, more than 85pc of parents said they were concerned at each of the four main categories. “When prompted, parents are clearly concerned about many of the negative issues that can be associated with the internet, yet they cannot be classified as primary, or obvious areas of concern for them,” the report concluded.

Some 83pc of parents have at some point discussed with their child the potential dangers of internet use. The report then found that of those parents, 90pc of their children claimed they had never come across material on the internet, TV, DVD, games consoles or mobile phones that made them feel uncomfortable.

By Gordon Smith