"The results of the EU Kids Online 2018 Estonian survey revealed quite a few topics of interest that may be of use to everyone working with children and young people. Our purpose was to find out what Estonian children are doing on the internet, which opportunities they are using and what kind of risks they encounter. We were also interested in how the parents, school and friends fit into the big picture. More than 1,000 kids, aged 9–17, took part in the survey, as well as their parents. We have picked out four interesting and somewhat surprising results to discuss.
The children encounter risks more than parents think they do
"'The internet is full of perverts!', ‘Children are addicted to smart devices!', ‘Anyone can become a victim of identity theft!', ‘Cyberbullying leads to suicides among young people!' Sounds familiar? It is true that there are many online risks, and techno-, media- and moral panics around them are not rare. Yet, we have to bear in mind a few things. First, children and young people are not like leaves in a storm – they use various strategies to cope with risks. Children turn to their friends (41 per cent) and parents (40 per cent) to share their concerns about the internet. At the same time, more than 27 per cent of children who had seen something disturbing online kept it to themselves. This brings us to an important point: what parents consider to be dangerous or problematic may be perceived as an opportunity by the child.
"Online environments, free from parental control, are important for young people to test their limits, try the forbidden fruit and experience the versatility of the world. Therefore, the fact that many parents are not aware of their children's exposure to disturbing content, is not too surprising. During the last year, children and young people have increasingly come in contact with offensive content (35 per cent say they have seen content they perceive as offensive) and websites that talk about ways to cause physical pain to or harm oneself (28 per cent). The older the child, the more exposed he or she is to risks and the less the parent knows what he or she sees online: 30 per cent of young people aged 15–17 have seen something disturbing online in the last 12 months, but only 13 per cent of parents knew about it.
Media panics do not reflect on the real concerns of the children
"The most dominant fears that have to do with the children's and young people's internet use are, according to several media scholars, porn, perverts and bullying. However, children and young people themselves named problems with a more technical or economic focus instead – the main concerns are related to a device catching a virus (15 per cent), spending money in online games and apps (5 per cent) and misuse of personal information (5 per cent).
"Let's take a closer look at the data related to the three mainstream fears. Pornographic and sexual content: one quarter of the Estonian children have been exposed to sexual content in the past 12 months, boys a little more than girls (26 per cent and 22 per cent respectively). While only 9 per cent of the children aged 9–10 had seen that kind of material, for young people aged 15–17, that figure rose to 44 per cent. These results are actually surprising, because a study conducted in 2004 in Estonia showed that over 50 per cent of young people aged 15–19 have watched pornographic content, mostly online. Besides, studies specifically focusing on that topic conducted in Nordic countries have brought out significantly higher indicators amongst young people. Sexting is also often included in this group of risks, although according to the EU Kids Online study, it is fairly uncommon amongst young people. Only 11 per cent of the children aged 11–17 have received these messages in the past 12 months. Only 23 children and young people who participated in the study said that they have sent sexual messages themselves.
"Another great fear (at least in the media), are so called perverts, or fears related to the fact that children and young people talk to strangers online. The recommendation ‘Don't talk to strangers online' is not adequate to many young people, because that ‘stranger' could turn into a playmate, friend, lover or someone who can share some interesting expert knowledge on a specific topic. Children and young people's internet use can be characterised as searching for new friends and contacts, according to the EU Kids Online Estonian survey. For example, 36 per cent of children aged 13–17 have at least once a month looked for new friends and contacts online. Meanwhile, only 14 per cent of children aged 9–12 have done the same. Almost half (46 per cent) of the children who participated in the study have had contact on the internet with someone they have never met face-to-face. Almost 33 per cent of those who have talked to a stranger online have also met them in real life. Girls are more likely to meet their internet acquaintances than boys – 39 per cent of girls and 29 per cent of boys have done it. And those online contacts are normally not so-called ‘pervs'.
"When we take a look at cyberbullying, our study only reaffirmed what many surveys and scientists have claimed before – bullying is usually not just cyber, but rather a mix of physical and virtual. A considerable number (36 per cent) of the children and young people who participated in the survey do not share these experiences with anyone.
Parent-child child communication overestimated by parents and underestimated by children
"'Talk to your child' is probably the most widely shared recommendation, whether it is related to depression, career choices, traffic culture or drinking behaviour – and of course, the use of the internet. But it works. Compared to restrictive parental mediation strategies, communicative strategies tend to be more efficient and meaningful. One of the most thought-provoking results of our study is the difference between the assessments of parents and children regarding co-use and talking to each other. 70 per cent of parents said that they use the internet with their children – meanwhile, children claim that only 38 per cent of them use the internet with their parents. Only 43 per cent of children claim that they have started a conversation with their parents about their online activities – yet 75 per cent of parents said they do it. This means that there is a remarkable difference between the assessments of parents and children regarding communication based on online activities.
"The children believe firmly that their parents use active mediation strategies significantly less that the parents themselves like to think. For example, only 54 per cent of the children say that their parents talk to them sometimes or more often about what they do online – yet 92 per cent of parents claim to do that. This means that the parents and children do not agree on how often parental mediation takes place. The truth, most likely, is somewhere in between.
Children are not more digitally savvy than their parents
"The myth that young people are digital natives who grasp everything with ease and can find solutions to every computer-related problem by clicking a few buttons is hard to get rid of. Many parents and teachers still think that young people are more skilful and aware in online activities, but the results of the survey indicate that the parents' online skills are relatively similar to those of the children. It was, obviously, a survey where the participants themselves had to evaluate and describe their skills, so objective measurements must be done in future studies. Still, if we compare the assessments of parents and children regarding their skills about the use of digital technologies, the parents stand out with higher indicators. For example, the parents can find the keywords for online search better than the children (86 per cent vs 74 per cent), check whether the information is true or not (74 per cent vs 59 per cent) and create music/videos and post them online (71 per cent vs 59 per cent).
"Estonian parents are relatively confident – 79 per cent of them claim that they know a lot about using the internet – but they think even more highly of their children's digital skills and knowledge, thus echoing the digital native myth once again. Only half of the parents who participated in the survey said that they know more about the internet than their child. We can safely say that the digital skills are almost at the same level, applaud the parents and confirm that the gap is not as big as previously thought. Besides, the parents have a lot to teach their children in life skills and knowledge."
Find out more information about the work of the Estonian Safer Internet Centre (SIC) generally, including its awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services on the Better Internet for Kids (BIK) portal, or find similar information for Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe.
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