Net use: How young Australians line up with kids in 25 other countries

By Anne Collier

Australian young people are highly connected people, on the whole. Part of the reason, probably, is that they’re such mobile users. They’re “disproportionately likely” to be online with a smartphone or other handheld device, according to the AU Kids Online report.

“Whereas 46% of Australian [9-to-16-year-olds] say they access the Internet via a smart handheld device other than a basic mobile phone, this is true of only 12% of European children,” the AU Kids Online authors write. “The next highest countries are Norway (31%) and the UK (26%).”

This may have changed somewhat in the two years since AU Kids Online’s report was released, but EU Kids Online covers quite a diverse range of nationalities and cultures. [The AU Kids Online report has the latest comprehensive data on Australian youth (an update from the Australian government is due to be released shortly), but what’s interesting about this report is its comparison to EU Kids Online’s findings. The methodology of this report’s authors, focusing on the balance of kids’ opportunities and risks online, was synced up with those of EU Kids Online’s research across 25 countries (it’d be really interesting if this could be done in the US).]

Compared to EU Kids Online’s average for 25 countries, 96% of AU 9-to-16-year-olds “go online” at school (vs. 63% in Europe), 96% at home (87% in Europe), and 31% “when out and about” (9% in Europe; and Australian children are among the youngest first-time Net users of the 26 countries in the study (a little before 8 years old, on average). In terms of frequency of Net use, Australian young people come in eighth, after Swedish, Bulgarian, Estonian, Danish, Norwegian, Dutch, and Finnish 9-to-16-year-olds.

Here are some other highlights:

  • Creative use of the Net: Australia lines up with the European countries in which children “most likely have creative and productive Internet skills”: Estonia, Lithuania, Norway, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Denmark and Finland: 66% of Australian youth “are operating beyond a basic level of activity and are involved in active and creative internet uses, viz: ‘playing, downloading and sharing’ and ‘advanced and creative [use]’,” ranking 6th out of 26 countries and “similar in a number of respects to other countries where children report a high number of activities, such as Norway.”
  • The risk-opportunity equation: Australia bears out a foundational EU Kids Online finding that “opportunities and risks online go hand-in-hand” (indicating that less risk = less opportunity and more opportunity = more risk, and that “risky opportunities” are linked to both resilience and vulnerability). What I mentioned above about high usage and high creativity/productivity online comes with higher risk (not necessarily harm). The AU Kids Online authors reports that “the overall relatively high levels of online risk experienced by Australian children, in line with children from Scandinavian and Baltic nations, suggests that the considerable efforts towards teaching protective skills and promoting online safety have not necessarily reached their targets. Even so, Australian children have learned it is unwise to post their address or phone number on their SNS profiles (6% compared to Europe, 14%), and four in five know it is best to keep their profile private or partially private.” The authors add, though, that a lot more needs to be known about whether those risks turn into harm.
  • Risk exposure: 28% of Australian children 9-to-16-year-olds have seen sexual images online and 44% have seen them “in any location, both online and offline,” ranking Australia 4th with Denmark in percentage of kids having experienced that exposure, with 38% of those (Australian) kids who had been exposed to sexual images saying they were bothered by this (ranking 5th in this category). Australian youth rank 3rd among EU and AU countries in having been treated in a “hurtful or nasty way in the past 12 months” (13%), but 15th in sending an receiving sexual messages (3% and 15% respectively). Australia was 6th in kids’ exposure to “potentially harmful user-generated material [including] hate sites, anorexia, bulimia, self-harm and suicide promotion.
  • Their reactions to online risk: “Australian children are more likely than children in any of the 25 European countries to say that ‘I have been bothered by something online,” the AU Kids Online authors reported – 30% (of Australian kids), 28% (Danish), 25% (Estonian), 23% each (Norwegian and Swedish), with a 12% pan-European average.
  • Focus on younger kids: The Australian researchers say there is a relative lack of data on 5-to-8-year-olds, and “many 11-to-12-year-olds do receive active parental mediation, but that this is less true for 9-to-10-year-olds.” The Joan Ganz Cooney Center in New York has found a similar lack of data on younger kids’ use of digital media (see this), and yet no lack of interest in digital media on the part of little media users.

It’ll be interesting to see what changes and continuity will turn up in the new data to be released this year!

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