Last school year Child Protection Centre of Zagreb, in cooperation with the Brave phone, conducted research into children’s habits and experience with using the Internet, mobile phones and other modern technologies. The research included 2,700 primary and secondary school children from Zagreb, Split, Dubrovnik, Osijek and Opatija aged 11 to 18.

Out of this number, 95% of the children have a computer at home, while 85% of them have an access to the Internet. 66% of children have a TV set in their room, 38% a DVD, 29% a Playstation. 52% of the children have a computer with an access to the Internet in their room, 91% of them are Internet users while 49% use the Internet on a daily basis. The Internet is used for communication with chosen friends by 63% of these children, while 61% download various contents, 47% search for contents necessary for school tasks and learning, 42% browse the Internet without a specific aim, 18% use the sites specialised for meeting friends, 10% write their own web logs or comment on others’, 9% participate in discussions via chats and forums. MORE …

It is interesting that 49% of children say that they use the Internet without adults’ supervision and presence. Only 2.5% say that one parent is always present while they are on the Internet. Parents of 60% of these children are involved in online activities of their children so that they instruct them about the dangers and protection on the Internet, while 36% of the children say that their parents are not interested in what they are doing on the Internet.

Regarding the exposure of children and youth to inappropriate sexual content on the Internet, 54% of children say that they have unwittingly come across web sites containing photos of naked or people engaged in an intercourse. Having been exposed to the sexual content, some children reported the following reactions: 14% felt anxious, 7% felt shame, 6% felt nervous, and 7% felt uneasiness.

During their companionship on the Internet, out of 2003 children participating in Internet communication, 814, or 41% say that they have been asked personal questions about themselves, their body, or questions of a sexual type.

The majority out of these 814 children did not experience these questions as disturbing. 42% of them say they did not feel disturbed, while 31% of the children and youth say the questions were funny. 39% say they were asked to be photographed in a sexualised way but they refused to do it, 6% of the children accepted it and sent the photo, while 31% of the children say that the persons they met on the Internet sent them their naked photos.

290 children, i.e. 14% of 2003 children communicating via the Internet, met the previously unknown friend in person. In 14% they say that their parents accompanied them, in 49%, their company were their friends, while 37% went to the meeting alone.

These data suggest the necessity of educating children about possible risks involved in meeting online friends who they do not know in person and about their protection and safety. The responsibility for this rests on parents and schools. Parents have to show interest for online activities of their children, even if their computer literacy is below their children’s. Protection of children against Internet risks does not mean a ban on Internet use but teaching them how to use it safely, just like teaching any other skills necessary in life.

In primary schools such teaching should be a part of compulsory education program in which children would obtain information and training about all advantages and opportunities offered by the Internet, as well as about possible risks. Data obtained in our research may be used by professionals in designing educational and prevention programs, and by parents as a reminder to carefully monitor the online activities of their children.

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