Considering how dangerous the Internet might be for children

While the Internet has made available a wealth of information for the average person, it has always been dogged by some perceived downsides. One persistent argument is that the Internet is dangerous for children. A recent sociological study from Europe suggests that while adults might consider the Internet dangerous for children, children themselves don’t have the same perception (and here is a second article on the same study):

A sociological study on a large scale conducted in 25 countries among 25,140 European Internet users aged nine to sixteen, suggests that the dangers of the Internet for Young people are often overestimated. Funded by the European Commission and led by the London School of Economics the study also shows that parents often have an incorrect assessment of what their children see as a traumatic or unpleasant [experience]…

One of the main findings of the survey is that what would be objectionable content or a traumatic experience for adults is not necessarily for children. Thus, 14% of young Europeans say they have seen pornographic images or sexual activity on the Web, but only a third of them felt this was a painful experience.

The survey also reveals a surprising paradox: if parents tend to overestimate the trauma that objectionable content can generate, they also underestimate the kind of experience that their children may have had. Thus, 40% of parents whose children have seen images of sex think that this does not happen to them, and this figure rises to 56% for recipients of aggressive messages.

There seem to be several findings here and I’m not sure I would draw the same conclusion about the first one as the first story did (though I haven’t look at the complete study or the data):

1. Kids don’t think these are painful experiences online. Does this matter what the kids think? Just because they don’t think it is dangerous or harms doesn’t mean that it is good. Or the parents could still think that looking at pornography or experiencing aggressive behavior is a negative even if the kid shows few signs of being affected.

I think the headline here could be phrased differently to better reflect this finding: perhaps something like “Parents, children have different perceptions about Internet dangers.”

It will also be interesting to see how the children of today react to things on the Internet (or the broader media) when they themselves are adults.

[The second story adds to this: “According to an EU survey, European teenagers are barely aware of the privacy issues raised by such websites. The survey found that 50% of them do not hesitate to give out personal information on the Web, which can remain online forever and can be seen by anybody.”]

2. A decent number of parents are not aware of the experiences that their children have online. Not too surprising. It would be more helpful to know why this is the case: is there a significant percentage of parents who don’t care what their kids do online? Or are there are large percentage of kids deliberately hiding certain online activities?

[Indeed, the second story focuses more on the lack of parental knowledge. One possible explanation for the knowledge gap: “A UK-based body for protecting children online says that children find it hard to confide in their parents about their experiences online.”]