Brussels, 10 August 2007
Can parents trust their 13 year old daughter when she surfs the web? Do they know for sure that their 11 year old son's mobile phone conversation is safe? A Commission survey of children from all over Europe has looked into how they use new media. It shows that the use of internet and mobile phones has become almost self-evident for Europe's young generation. In general, they also know the risks of using the internet and mobile phones. However, when facing trouble online, minors will ask an adult only as a last resort.
"This is the first time children all across Europe have been asked directly how they use online technologies, how much they browse for fun and for schoolwork, and how they deal with risks," says Viviane Reding, European Commissioner for Information Society and Media. "It is encouraging to see Europe's youth embrace digital technologies so confidently. The capability of making active use of new media is key for the development of a knowledge-based society in Europe. At the same time, these survey results underline Europe's need for proactive online media education. We must also continue to raise awareness about the opportunities and risks of new media, especially among parents. Where the security of our children is at stake, there can be no room for complacency."
Eurobarometer's qualitative survey interviewed children of 9-10 and 12-14 years old from all 27 EU Member States plus Norway and Iceland. They were asked in-depth about how they use online technologies, and how they would react to problems and risks when using the internet and mobile phones.
The survey shows that children use technologies in very similar ways all across Europe. Online gaming, surfing and communication are considered as the top activities online while texting, and talking with parents and friends come out top for young mobile users.
The majority use the internet several times a day, and also own a personal mobile phone. Internet use is to some extent limited by parents while the use of mobile phones is much freer and less supervised.
As one child said: “My parents tell me not to stay more than one or two hours, because it harms your eyes. I would like to stay longer but they are right” (Boy, 9-10 years old, Romania)
The results show that children are globally well aware of the potential online risks, such as security, viruses, access to unwanted content, identity theft and potential dangerous contact with strangers.
“The hackers are a danger, they may spread viruses that destroy the hard disk or copy all that we have in the computer, passwords, documents, etc.” (Boy, 9-10 years old, Portugal)
Many of them are also well aware of the necessary precautions they need to take.
"Don't give your personal data on the internet, nor your mobile phone number to people you don't know" (Girl, 12-14 years old, Luxembourg)
Some children nevertheless admitted that they have engaged in risky behaviour, and some acknowledged that they have been victims of bullying and had contacts with strangers.
"I met him at a station and then it was an old, nasty 44 year old man. Then I walked away!" (Boy, 12-14 years old, Denmark)
Even though young people know about of the risks and precautions, most would rather try to solve the problem themselves or with friends, and would talk to their parents only as a last resort in the most serious cases.
"I would tell anybody except my parents, I would be too much afraid that my mother finds confirmation of what she fears and prevents me from going to chat rooms".(Girl, 9-10 years old, Germany)
Eurobarometer's results will help the Commission to further refine how the EU's Safer Internet programme can best contribute to internet and mobile phone child safety throughout Europe. It follows the agreement by European mobile operators, brokered by the Commission in Spring 2007, to self regulate their efforts to protect minors using mobile phones (see IP/07/139).
The next Safer Internet Day will be on 12 February 2008.
The EU's Safer Internet programme has been running since 1999, promoting a safer use of online technologies particularly by children, and fighting illegal and harmful content ranging from child abuse images to racism. The current phase (Safer Internet plus) will run until 2008 (see IP/06/1512, MEMO/07/44).
The annual Safer Internet day highlights such initiatives globally and helps raise awareness of the issues surrounding safer use of the internet and new technologies (see IP/07/140, IP/06/126, IP/05/148, IP/04/171).
For more information:
Findings from the Eurobarometer on Children's use of online technologies: