40pc of children 9-16 in Ireland now have smartphones

10 Feb 2014

Some 40pc of children aged 9-16 and more than 60pc of teenagers in Ireland own a smartphone, suggests new research that highlights the opportunities of the digital skills they are gaining but also the reality they are exposed to more online risks, such as cyberullying.

The Net Children Go Mobile project’s report found that 35pc of Irish children and teens with smartphones use their devices to go online every day, while 27pc own a tablet computer and also use it to access the internet on a daily basis.

The report said smartphone and tablet users engage more in communication and entertainment activities.

They also have a higher level of digital skills, safety skills and communicative abilities. However, they are more likely to be exposed to online risks.

Bullying is still the most harmful risky experience: two out of three children who have been bullied on or offline claim they had been left ‘very’ or ‘a bit’ upset.

Sexual risks are second: half of the children who have received sexual messages or have seen sexual content of any kind (on and offline) have been concerned.

While smartphones and tablet users encounter more risks, they don’t report more harmful experiences. Mobile internet access and use is not, therefore, a factor of vulnerability.

“Exposure to online risks appears greater among children who also use mobile devices to go online when compared to the 2010 EU Kids Online data,” said Giovanna Mascheroni, who heads up the pan-European research.

“This is not a causal relationship, though. Rather, we observe the same correlation between opportunities and risks: older users and smartphone and tablet users benefit from more online opportunities, but are also exposed to more risks. As children go online more in a variety of contexts and from a wider range of devices, they also encounter more risk,” Mascheroni said.

Bothersome online content

One in five children in Ireland (20pc) say they have been bothered by something on the internet in the past year. While still a minority, this has doubled (up from 11pc) since the last EU Kids Online survey in 2011.

Negative user-generated content (21pc) concerning hate, pro-anorexia, self-harm, drug taking or suicide is among risky content children are likely to encounter on the internet, as well as seeing sexual images (21pc) and making contact with people they have never met face to face (22pc).

Brian O’Neill, leader of the project in Ireland added: “Mobile devices have helped young people to intensify their internet use but their concerns about content and risks of bullying are rising.

“More awareness of the risks and safety implications of mobile internet use is needed,” O’Neill said.

Teens with smartphones image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years