The Brave Phone and The Child Protection Center of Zagreb conducted research at the national level on the experience and behaviours of children on the Internet and on Facebook social network in general and on the relation of that experience to children's personal and psychological characteristics, habits of safe use of the Internet and other characteristics.
Brave Phone – help line for abused and neglected children and the Child Protection Center of Zagreb conducted research into children and youth habits and experiences with using the Internet, mobile phones and other modern technologies. The research was intended to investigate into the way children use the Internet and into the purpose of the use, identify the exposure of children to inappropriate sexual content and intimate questions of sexual nature as well as the experience of e-abuse via the Internet and mobile phones. One of the aims of this research was to investigate into direct emotional and behavioural reactions of children after inappropriate exposures to sexual content and questions of intimate nature.
The research included 2700 students of primary and high school age from several Croatian cities (Zagreb, Split, Dubrovnik, Osijek, Opatija). Their age span covers 11 to 18, averaging at 14 years of age. The sample consisted of 44% of male and 56% of female subjects.
Children and youth experience with using the Internet
Almost all included children (95%) state that they have a computer (a desk-top or a lap-top) at home, and 85% have an Internet access at home. Asked about which electronic devices they had in their rooms, their answers showed the following:
Electronic devices children and youth have in their rooms:
■computer with Internet access
Results show that 91% of children and youth in our sample claim they have been Internet users, equally boys and girls, which indicates a significantly wide use of the Internet among children and youth. The results also show that there are no statistically significant differences in the Internet use between the age groups.
Asked about the frequency of the Internet use, 49% of the Internet users state that they use it every day, 34% several times a week, while 17% of them use it several times a month. We wanted to find out what they used it for and why, i.e. what was most interesting for them. Results are presented in the following table:
N= 2450 participants
■communication with chosen friends
■downloading various contents
■searching for contents needed for school and learning
■browsing without a specific aim
■use of e-mail
■use of pages specialised for socialising, creating profiles
■writing their own blogs (web logs) and commenting on other blogs
■participation in discussions via Internet chats or forums
49% of children state that they are unsupervised and without the presence of adults when using the Internet, while 46% say that parents are sometimes present. Only 2.5% say that one parent is always present while they are on the Internet. Asked about parents’ reactions, more than half of the participants (60%) say that their parents teach them about the dangers related to the Internet and about protection, while one third (36%) think that their parents are not interested in what they are doing on the Internet.
Children and youth exposure to sexual content on the Internet
- 54% of children and youth state that they unwittingly came across a web page with naked people’s photographs or people in a sexual intercourse.
- 24% of them state that they received an unwanted e-mail message containing pornographic web pages advertisements or links to these pages.
- 28% of children and youth opened the unwanted message or the link containing pictures of naked people or people in sexual activity.
Analysis of participants’ answers by gender shows that boys statistically significantly more often report the (unwanted) exposure to sexual content.
- 18% of children and youth state that they had known that the offered page contained pornographic content before they opened it. This is interesting because it suggests that one part of youth research activity on the Internet is directed towards sexual contents, too, which is developmentally expected at puberty and adolescence. However, this group of children and youth is at the same time the risk group because it may be exposed to a content which is incomprehensible at their age or which is more than they wanted to know.
The majority of unwanted exposure took place while the children were using a computer at home (23%), while 3% of them found messages while using a computer at school or at a friend (3%).
Asked about emotional and behavioural reactions after the unwanted exposure to sexual content, 34% of children and youth say that it did not disturb them and 46% say that they did not notice significant changes in their behaviour.
Still, some children showed reactions of being disturbed after the exposure – 14% felt uneasiness, 7% shame, 6% felt nervous, while 7% of them say they felt very embarrassed. On the behaviour plan, 4% of them say that they were not able to stop thinking about the content they had seen, while 3% say that some time after the exposure, they did not use the Internet, which indicates a higher degree of stress because of the experienced exposure. 22% of the participants say that they did not tell anybody about the experience, while 21% of them talked about that with their friends, and 4% referred to their parents.
Communication via the Internet
1960 (81%) out of 2414 children and youth say that they use the Internet to communicate with others, slightly more girls than boys. Participants were asked about the ways they communicate with others via the Internet. It is interesting that the majority of children and youth communicate via the msn, icq or skype services (82%), while 49% say that they use e-mails. One fourth of them participate in discussions in forums or chats, 27% write their own blog or write commentaries on others’ blogs, and 20% of them have created their own profile on one of the pages specialised for socialising. Results show that communication and socialising with others increases with the age.
Asked about the frequency of Internet use for socialising and communication, 41% of children and youth say they do it every day, while 37% do it several times a week. 43% of children and youth say that they spend up to one hour per one visit on the Internet communicating with others, while one third spends more than two hours per visit.
Regarding their own e-mail address, 47% have one e-mail address, while 37% of participants say that they have several addresses. Only 6% of children and youth do not have one and use their parents’ e-mail address. It is interesting that 59% of children and youth say that parents do not have access to their mail, while 22% say that parents can read their mail.
The most frequent topics for chatting via the Internet are said to be having fun, telling jokes and funny stories (65%), friendship and love (64%), hobbies and specific interests (44%), school and homework (28%), while in 20% they say that they chat about personal problems.
Exposure to inappropriate questions and commentaries of sexual nature during communication via the Internet (chat, msn, icq, blog, forum…)
Out of the total of 2003 participants, 814 (41%) children and youth say they were asked intimate questions about themselves, their body or questions of sexual nature during socialising and communicating via the Internet. Girls (43%) were more often asked about intimate details than boys (38%), the obtained difference being statistically significant. Regarding the age, results indicate that older children were more often exposed to intimate questions than younger ones, the obtained difference being statistically significant.
The table shows what the questions were about:
- questions related to sex, kissing and my experiences
- questions about private body parts
- questions about masturbation experience
- questions about clothes I wear
- invitation to meet or have sex
Results suggest that the majority of children did not experience these questions as disturbing – 42% say they did not feel uneasy, while 31% of children and youth say that they considered the questions they had been asked as funny and a part of the fun. This indicates that children and youth do possess certain knowledge and skills that help them recognise a danger, that they know how to protect themselves in such situations and terminate communication which is becoming uncomfortable. Regretfully, a part of them, having been questioned about intimate details and sexuality, experienced disturbing reactions. Their answers about the immediate emotional reactions after the questions about intimate details, indicate that:
- 14% of children and youth felt uneasy
- 6% report a feeling of shame
- 9% say they felt nervous or irritated
- 10% say they felt very embarrassed.
Also, asked whether somebody they had met on the Internet requested that they should be taken photos or be video-recorded in a sexualised way, 39% of 840 participants, answered ‘yes’, but they did not do it, while 6% of children and youth say they took their photo and sent it. 31% of children say that the person they met via the Internet, sent them a naked photo.
290 (14%) out of 2003 children and youth who communicate via the Internet, say that they went to meet and introduce with the on-line friend who they had not known in person before that. In 14% of cases they were accompanied by their parents, in 49% by their friends, while 37% of them say they were not accompanied by anyone. This indicates that it is necessary to teach children about possible dangers of meeting on-line friends who they had not met in person before, as well as the steps they have to undertake if they want to have Internet friends.
Regarding the abusive behaviour towards others on the Internet, the obtained results show that:
- 7% of children and youth say that they misused somebody’s name and published his/her private affairs on the Internet
- 5% of the participants say that they uploaded other’s photo or video recording with the purpose of ridiculing the person
- 7% of them say that they took someone’s identity and said ugly things in the name of that person.
Experience of e-abuse via the mobile phone (N=2650 children)
- 97% of the children and youth in the sample say that they have their own mobile phone.
- 16% of the participants received a disturbing or threatening message via the mobile phone
- 10% received an unwanted message of pornographic or sexual content
- 8% say that they were sending someone messages of pornographic or sexual content
- 3% say that they were sending someone messages of pornographic or sexual content, although they knew that the receiver did not want them
- 23% of children and youth say that they used their mobile phone to take photos or video-record a fight or some other violent behaviour of their peers.
Results show that 22% of children and youth in the sample think that being disturbed, threatened and receiving sexual messages via the mobile phone and the Internet should not be reported, while 78% of them think that such experiences should be reported.
24% of them do not know who they should report the disturbing experiences via the Internet and the mobile phone, while 9% think that they should be reported to the administrator and 37% they should be reported to the police. 45% of children and youth think that they should talk to their parents about these experiences.