How Much Are Kids Online, and What Are They Doing?
May 2, 2015 by Timothy Young
Kids these days can be somewhat mysterious. With the Internet, computers, and mobile devices there are many more secrets to be had and places to hide. However, with good education around Internet safety, combined with parental knowledge around parental settings on the computer, there is no reason that experiences with the Internet have to be any more damaging than listening to Billy McDougal's stories in the playground.
In a world where mobile devices are everywhere, children interacting with these devices are getting younger and younger. In a survey on 370 low income parents with little formal education, it was found that 1 in 3 babies are exposed to smartphones and tablets before they can walk, with 1 in 7 1-year-old children using mobile devices for at least one hour a day. It is unclear whether the rate would be higher or lower for babies in higher income families, however there is an idea for older children. In 2011 there was a report done on EU Kids that analysed data from 25,000 children between the ages of 9-16 across 25 countries in Europe. The report found significant correlations between children from households with higher educational levels and the ability to access the Internet in more locations and platforms, with more private access and more sophisticated mobile access. Anyone with a teenager will know that they are on an electronic device at almost every possible minute. Since that is not going to change, it would be beneficial to and use that time to educate children.
As a nation, New Zealanders have high rates of smartphone and tablet ownership, with 90% of respondents (in a nationally representative telephone survey with 1003 participants) reporting owning or having access to a portable device (Research NZ, 2014). Of those that reported owning a smartphone, 88% said they used it ev-er-y day. Although respondents were 18 years or over, these statistics represent the culture and widespread use of the Internet and personal devices in a developed OECD country.
Okay so quite a lot of people use mobile devices these days, but how many people even use the Internet? The Internet is so last millennium, amirite?
Out of the entire human population, only 42.3% of us have access to the Internet. While North America has 87.7%, Africa only has 25.5% of people connected. New Zealand has a very high level of Internet connection at 94.6%.
To compare daily Internet usage of different aged children, here are the stats:
9-10 yrs - 58 mins
11-12 yrs - 74 mins
13-14 yrs - 97mins
15-16yrs - 118mins
It is important to note that these figures are for a report done four years ago, so it is likely that these numbers are different (probably higher) now.
Alright, so apparently mobile devices and the Internet are fairly popular. I don't mean to intrude, but what is it that people are doing when they are on the Internet?
The Research NZ report also showed that the activity the Internet was being used for the most on people’s devices is ‘looking for reference information’ (researching), as reported by 89% of laptop users and 83% of smartphone users. The next most performed Internet activity was online banking with 78% of laptop users and 63% of smartphone users. The use of devices to access social media was also popular, with 63% of laptop users and 71% of smartphone users accessing social media. Considering the options, I’m guessing this was the PG rated survey.
It turns out a lot of NZers with mobile devices use social media. Around 52.1% to 56.6% of New Zealand’s population is connected to Facebook. This may not be surprising, however research in Europe has also found that 49% of the 11 to 12-year-olds had their own social media website, with 23% of 11 to 12-year-olds reporting the effects of excessive use of the Internet.
Since we are social beings who are rewarded with the nectar of dopamine whenever we interact with others, it is no surprise that everyone with the opportunity is utilising this amazing technology to communicate with more people than ever before. Socialising with many people on the Internet is so appealing that we even do it while communicating and interacting with people face-to-face.
The EU Kids report found 53% of children who responded to the survey would ordinarily use the Internet when they are with a friend at their home. The report concluded that online activities are becoming an increasing part of time spent interacting with peers, and stated that “The internet is relevant for socialising among peers in two ways: it supports forms of ‘perpetual contact’ that extend face-to-face encounters beyond physical proximity, and it is a resource for co-present interaction, when it is shared in face-to-face meetings with friends.”. In other words the Internet is an extension of a student’s typical social setting (daily interactions), as it allows discussion of daily events while at home, as well as providing events for the students to talk about at school.
Considering the amount of time young people spend socialising and communicating through the Internet such as with social media, it is expected that a vast amount of learning could also be done through social media. A fair amount of research has been done demonstrating social media increasingly being used effectively as an educational tool (Graves & Ziaeehezarjeribi, 2010; West, 2012; Moran et al., 2011). The amount social media influences learning depends on a number of factors, such as the amount of that time spent doing useful activities such as researching or collaborating with friends and classmates, as opposed to time-wasting and distracting other students.
What should you do to protect your children from the negative aspects of the Internet, so they can benefit from the positive aspects?
The EU Kids report also collected data about parents who strictly restricted internet and social media use of their 11 to 12-year-olds, and a range of parental supervision techniques through to mediating safe use through supervision and education. The students who had restrictions placed on their internet use reported lower levels of harm (i.e. experiencing something on the Internet that bothered them). However the report also concluded that restrictive mediation (strict restriction) resulted in lower levels of online activity and development of skills in all age groups. This suggests that if you want to wrap your children in cotton wool to protect their pure little minds, you may do so at the expense of their ability to succeed in this online world.
The solution is to educate students about effective ways of using the Internet, ways of avoiding material that may cause harm, and ways of avoiding cyber bullying (which will be further discussed in the next blog post). It is also important to educate students on the dangers of social media, such as the link between excessive social media use and symptoms of depression and narcissism.
Considering the potential of the Internet to collect and distribute the wealth of human knowledge, the ability to connect people, and educational opportunities that the Internet provides; it is a crying shame that only 42.3% of human potential is tapping into this global village. It would be a benefit to all humanity if all the children on Earth had the opportunity to use the Internet as an educational tool, because as it stands everyone who does not have access to the Internet is being left behind. Perhaps this is the reason why the UN recently declared that access to the Internet is to be considered a basic human right. With no multinational government efforts to provide global Internet coverage, initiatives such as Google’s Project Loon and Facebook’s Internet.org, looks set to take the honour of providing this service to all of the people. I will further explore the idea of universal Internet in a later post.
Personally I use the Internet predominantly as a research tool, a finder of ‘instant karma’ videos, and as a way to raise my self-esteem by bullying random people on the Internet. As is true with all other forms of media and communication (radio, TV, magazines, books), it is not the medium that is responsible for how positive a person’s experience is with that medium, but rather the way each person decides to use it. For instance, watching TV is not necessarily bad for you or a waste of time because you are watching TV, what makes it a waste of time is when you decide to watch the Kardashian’s instead of Planet Earth, or when you decide to watch the first of eight Masterchef finals instead of cooking your family dinner. In the same respect, the Internet is only a negative environment for children if they are not doing it right. Going on a Wikipedia spree about the Roman collapse or the Manhattan Project should not be limited, while a YouTube spree on parkour fails probably should not last more than two and a half hours. It is probably not wise for me to set these standards, but I’m sure parents are handicapable of making those decisions. It is up to parents during home time and educators during school time to teach students safe ways to participate online in a way that will minimize harm and bullying.