A new study by the EU Kids Online research network, based on interviews with 23,000 children and their parents across Europe, shows that more than one in eight 9–16-year-old children have been bothered or upset by online content.
The offensive web content mostly includes pornography, sexual or offensive messages and potentially harmful user-generated web content.
UT Professor of Media Studies Veronika Kalmus, who led the project’s Estonian team, says that the youngest children are those who find it hardest to cope with upsetting web content, but that kids are going online at ever-younger ages – an average of seven in Sweden and eight in Estonia, Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands and the UK.
Estonia, Lithuania, Sweden and the Czech Republic comprise the countries where children were more at risk online, with Italy, Portugal and Turkey showing the least risk. More than 60 percent of Estonian children have encountered various online risks.
The main online risks experienced by Estonian kids included sexual images (30%, the highest percentage in Europe), meeting an online contact face to face in real life (26%, also Europe’s highest), cyberbullying (14%, sharing the highest proportion in Europe in this category), and receiving sexual messages (21%, the 3rd highest percentage in Europe).
Half of the kids surveyed in Estonia also admitted to often experiencing problems associated with the excessive use of Internet, such as neglected family, friends and schoolwork, which is significantly higher than the European average.
The study revealed that parents are often not aware of the risks to which their children have been exposed. For example, when a child had been bullied online, more than half of parents did not realise this had happened.
Nevertheless, researchers are of the opinion that in addition to heightened risks, increased Internet use also brings an ever-increasing number of positive opportunities and that risks need not always lead to a negative experience.
The majority of children are not bothered or upset by their online experiences and are often comfortable doing things that some adults consider risky.