The Greek Safer Internet Centre reflects on how online behaviour has changed as a result of the pandemic

The Greek Safer Internet Centre has recently released the paper "Surveying parental mediation and digital literacy. Were parents ready during COVID-19?", exploring the evolution of the online behaviour of children and young people due to the pandemic, and how parents and carers have had to adapt and keep up-to-date with new trends and technologies. 

Date 2022-03-30 Author Greek Safer Internet Centre Section awareness, policy Topic excessive use, media literacy/education, potentially harmful content Audience media specialist, organisations and industry, research, policy and decision makers
Woman receiving a paper document

The Greek Safer Internet Centre of FORTH and the Hellenic Mediterranean University were selected for the Outstanding Paper Award at the 20th International Conference on e-Society 2022 for the paper "Surveying parental mediation and digital literacy. Were parents ready during COVID-19?". 

The aim of the survey was to explore to what extent children’s online behaviour has changed during the pandemic, to study whether demographic factors and the digital literacy of their parents and carers were associated with the changes observed, and to explore to what extent parents and carers were familiar with age and content classification systems, which allow them to make informed decisions about the content consumed by their children on media outlets.  

The main findings of the survey 

The research showed that there is a percentage of parents (29.8 per cent) that has acknowledged changes in the online habits of their children during the pandemic. From a qualitative perspective, some of the parents’ responses indicate emotional distress, because of the complicated situation parents and carers find themselves in, with their new “role” as both educators and entertainers during the pandemic, with lockdown and distance learning in place. 

Furthermore, the research revealed that those parents who stated having more conversations with their children about online safety had lower chances of reporting that their child had been negatively affected by the pandemic. Moreover, the data showed that parents and carers stating to have enough knowledge to advise their children on how to stay safe online reported that their child had been impacted on by the pandemic less often.  

Overall, the research confirms that digital literacy of parents and carers might be the key to overcome and contrast the online risks that young people might experience, especially during the pandemic. 

Another factor that made a difference in how children coped with the pandemic was the age of the child. Children aged 6-15 years old seemed to be more heavily affected by the pandemic compared to children aged 3-5 and children aged 15 years old or older.  

Notably, the age group 9-12 appeared to show the biggest change in children’s online habits, as observed by their parents and carers, after the outbreak of the pandemic. The same age group is admittedly the crucial age where children first start interacting with the online world. Parents and carers who reported that they do not have control over their children’s online interactions, or parents who reported being partially in control of their online activities, were more than those parents and carers stating being in control of the online activities of their children. The latter was not the case for younger age groups of the sample. For older age groups (13 to 15, 15 and older), parents who stated not being in control of their children’s online interactions were more than parents stating they are, regardless of the pandemic.  

Comparison between the years of online experience of the participants (in years) and if they are aware of the age classification systems (Cross-tabulation analysis between years of online activity variable and the classification systems variable. Credits: Greek Safer Internet Centre

The research additionally showed that the gender of the child and the residence (city or village) did not have an impact on whether a child was more or less affected by the circumstances of the pandemic. These findings reveal that the lockdown measures implemented accelerated the turning point where parents and carers were first in control of the online activities of their children and then began to lose it. The fast pace at which the online behaviour of children was changing left parents and carers unprepared, and thus unable to react at the same pace. 

Just as importantly, parents and carers that took part in the survey seemed to, overall, not be able to make informed decision about what is appropriate for their children online. This is demonstrated by the low percentages of parents reporting being aware of age and content classification systems online, but also from the fact that 51 per cent of parents don’t use parental control systems, either because they are not aware of how to use them or because they choose not to use them. The statistical analysis showed that parents and carers who have more than ten years of experience with the online world, as well as more of the male participants, are more familiar with age classification systems. 

In conclusion, the COVID-19 pandemic initiated an extensive and sudden digital transformation in the society. The pandemic forced children and young people to interact with and in the digital world like never before, and this required significant adjustments. Parents and carers had to take the lead in this unexpected digital transformation of children’s education and entertainment, without being fully prepared for it. The paper shows that there is a need to put more effort on raising awareness about tools that could help parents and carers advise their children about their online activities. 

You can read and download the paper (pdf) here.

Find out more about the work of the Greek Safer Internet Centre, including its awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services – or find similar information for Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe.  

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