Research finds there is an emerging trend for very young children (toddlers and pre-schoolers) to use internet connected devices, especially touchscreen tablets and smartphones. This is likely to result in an increasing number of very young children having access to the internet, along with a probable increase in exposure to risks associated with such internet use, including risk generated by parents.
The new report critically reviews recent research to understand the internet use, and emerging policy priorities, regarding children from birth to eight years old. Researchers find a substantial increase in usage by very young children. Unfortunately this has not yet been matched by research exploring the benefits and risks of their online engagement, so there are many gaps in our knowledge.
Dr Brian O'Neill, responsible for the EU Kids Online project in Ireland, explains: "EU Kids Online has spent seven years investigating 9-16 year olds' engagement with the internet, focusing on the benefits and risks of children's internet use. While this meant examining the experiences of much younger children than had been researched before EU Kids Online began its work in 2006, there is now a critical need for information about the internet-related behaviours of 0-8 year olds. EU Kids Online's research shows that children are now going online at a younger and younger age, and that young children's lack of technical, critical and social skills may pose a greater risk"
Parents need to take better care when publishing online
One of the main concerns relates to parents posting pictures and videos of their children online, and the potential effect these postings may have on their children's digital footprint. Researchers urge that action is taken:
"Specifically engagement with online service providers to review their user consent policies and responsibilities to 'take-down' information in a wide range of circumstances. This includes confidential, risky and erroneous information inadvertently posted by minors -- as well as parental postings," says Brian O'Neill.
The number of children accessing virtual worlds is on the increase with the most significant growth expected in pre-teen users aged 3-11. More children are using the social network functions on sites such as Club Penguin, Minecraft and Moshie Monsters. However, there is insufficient research to show that children under the age of nine have the capacity to engage with the internet in a safe and beneficial manner in all circumstances, especially when it comes to socialising online, either within age-appropriate virtual worlds or as under-aged participants in sites intended for teenagers and adults (Facebook, You Tube etc.).
Key recommendations from the report include:
- The development and promotion of realistic, evidence-based guidelines for parents/carers regarding very young children's engagement with digital technologies and the internet. Parent education packages should be aimed at specific age groups (0-2, 3-4, 5-8) and outline ways in which parents can maximise the benefits and minimise the risks of their children going online.
- The development and promotion of age-appropriate internet safety education for all age groups -- including pre-primary school or nursery/kindergarten settings.
- Continued engagement with device designers to encourage the integration of default privacy protections within the design of smart phones, tablets and other mobile devices.
- Continued engagement to ensure the provision of greater transparency regarding how data is collected, collated, used and shared via children's apps, and the provision of straightforward opt-out choices for parents and children within these apps.
- Engagement with online service providers to review their user consent policies and responsibilities to 'take-down' information in a wide range of circumstances. This includes confidential, risky and erroneous information inadvertently posted by minors -- as well as parental postings.
- Parental education regarding posts, pictures and videos of their children, and the potential effect these postings may have on their children's digital footprint.
- The development of appropriate investigative methods so as to include very young children's own experiences and opinions.
- Holloway,D., Green, L. and Livingstone, S. Zero to eight. Young children and their internet use.. EU Kids Online, 2013
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