Irish kids are the most responsible users of social networking

21 Oct 2010

Children in Ireland have emerged as the most responsible users of social networking sites, a major EU study has revealed. Irish kids are the least likely out of the EU 27 nations to publish their address or phone number.

EU Kids Online published the initial findings of its new empirical research into the experiences and practices of European children and parents regarding risky and safer use of the internet and new online technologies.

Although not the most popular, social networking is arguably the fastest-growing activity (EU 57pc, and Ireland 57pc). Children in Ireland (IE) are amongst the most responsible users of social networking web sites. They are the least likely to publish their address or phone number on the profile (IE 7pc, EU 14pc) and most likely to have a private profile (IE 11pc, EU 29pc).

“This study shows children are going online younger than ever before and that the youngest children are those who find it hardest to cope with upsetting online experiences,” said Brian O’Neill, Dublin Institute of Technology.

“This is the area where schools, parents, government and industry need to work together to protect and educate.”

The use of the internet for school work is the top online activity (EU 84pc). Watching video clips (EU 83pc), playing games (EU 74pc), and communicating (eg, instant messaging, EU 61pc) are the next most popular types of online activity.

The most common location of internet access is at home (EU 85pc), followed by at school (EU 63pc). Thankfully, use in their bedroom is still relatively low in Ireland (IE 35pc) compared with other countries (EU 48pc). However, access is diversifying with one in five children in Ireland accessing the internet from a handheld device and almost one in three from a mobile phone.

Irish least likely to encounter risks

In general, children in Ireland are less likely to encounter key risk factors – pornography, bullying, sending/receiving sexual messages, going to meetings with contacts first met online – than most of their counterparts abroad.

Children in Ireland are ranked 21st of 23 for children who have seen sexual images online in the last 12 months (IE 9pc). They also ranked 21st of 23 for those who had been bullied online in the last 12 months (IE 4pc). Only in Turkey (TR 2pc) fewer children than in Ireland (IR 3pc) have gone to meet anyone face-to-face that they first met online.

Risk does not always translate into harm. Although only one in eight (EU 14pc) of Europe’s 9-16-year-olds have encountered sexual images online, one in three of those who has seen them (EU 5pc of all children) report being bothered by this experience. The relation between risk and harm (as perceived by children) varies by country in a complex way. For example, in Bulgaria, one in five children have been exposed to sexual images online but fewer than one in five of those children were bothered by what they saw. By contrast, only one in 10 Irish children have seen sexual images online, but nearly half of those who had seen it were bothered by it.

The more children use the internet the more they are likely to encounter risk. This study indicates that more use of the internet facilitates the development of digital literacy and safety skills. Children in Ireland were at the lower end of the usage spectrum, they were amongst the least likely to engage in a wide range of online activities. This is a concern as more use also brings more opportunities and more benefits.

“We need to strike a greater balance between empowerment and protection of our children,” said Simon Grehan of the National Centre for Technology in Education.

“We should be careful not to overstate the potential for harm of the internet. Unbalanced headlines and self-serving statements by vested interests have contributed to the climate of anxiety that surrounds new technology and created a fiercely polarised debate in which panic and fear often drown out evidence. This moral hysteria can lead to children being denied the opportunities so obviously afforded by these new technologies.”

The role of parents

The EU Kids Online survey also looked at the role of parents in relation to children’s media use. Findings show that most parents do talk to their children about what they do on the internet (70pc), or stay nearby when the child is on the internet (57pc).

Parental involvement is particularly evident in Ireland, with 93pc of all parents practising some form of mediation. There is also evidence to show that parents in Ireland are more restrictive in their approach to their child’s online activity (EU 83pc, IE 94pc) in the form of setting rules or restrictions to manage their internet use.

The data is taken from a random stratified sample of 23,420 children aged 9-16 who use the internet, plus one of their parents, who were interviewed during spring/summer 2010 in 25 European countries, including Ireland.

The full EU Kids Online report, Risks and Safety on the Internet, is published simultaneously in London, Luxembourg and Gothenburg on Thursday, 21 October, and will be available at An EU Kids Online: Irish National Report will be published in February 2011.

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