21% of children do not speak about online experiences – Report

A survey shows social media use and other online activities by users aged between 9 and 16 years

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

A study carried out in Malta with a representative sample of 1234 boys and girls aged between 9 and 16 years shows that 21% of the children do not speak to anybody about the online experiences which disturbed them or made them feel uncomfortable and 26% of children aged between 11 and 16 years received sexually explicit messages.

This report provides the results of the 2018 EU Kids Online survey by analysing social media use and other online activities by users aged 9 and 16 years.

Risks and harm

The study shows that 21% of children aged between 9-16 years did not speak to anybody about the online experiences which disturbed them or made them feel uncomfortable and friends, 39% and parents, 42%, were the main source of support in situations when they had unpleasant experiences but the percentage of children who did nothing when facing such problems is still high.

33% ignored the problem and hoped that it will go away and 30% decided to close the website or app.

Sexting and pornography

The study also shows that 20% of participants received requests of a sexual nature and 40% of participants between 9-16 years, 70% of those aged 15-16, have seen sexual content in the last year.

Many of the older participants were not disturbed by the content but some of the younger children, 24% of 9-10-year-olds and 34% of 11-12-year-olds were very upset.

35% of children aged between 9-16 years made online contact with people whom they had never met offline. Around half of these children met in real life the people they met online.

The study also shows that 49% of the girls feel safe on the internet when compared to 61% of the boys.

Bullying

Among the risks and inappropriate content children experience cyberbullying features as well with 34% of all participants said they have been bullied either online or offline in the last year. Out of these, 70% were bullied online with the majority, 70%, said they received nasty or hurtful messages.

Access to the internet

Results show that 79% of all the children have their own social networking profile and 77% of respondents use their smartphone to go online and Smartphone use increases with age.

92% of 15-16-year -olds use a mobile phone or smartphone and 54% of children aged 9-10 years use their mobile phone or smartphone

89% of Maltese children use the internet at home daily and 59% of these use the internet daily when they are somewhere by themselves. Among adolescents aged 15- 16 the percentage of those who use the internet every day when they are somewhere on their own increases to 73%.

The most common activities carried out by the participants in this study are those related to communication and entertainment.

68% of children aged 9-16 use the internet every day to communicate with friends and family. 79% watch video clips and 72% use the internet to listen to music online. 46% of children use the internet to visit social networking sites but the percentage increases for adolescents.

With regards to indicators of excessive use of the internet, the survey shows that 11% of the children think that the amount of time they spend online causes them problems and 16% have dedicated less time than they should to friends and family or to doing homework. 13% felt uncomfortable when they could not be online and 17% have tried unsuccessfully to spend less time using the internet.

Negative User-Generated Content (NUGC)

The study shows that NUGC is a risk experienced by around 4% of the children. Some participants saw; cruel acts and violent images like such as cruelty to other people or animals – 5%, sites and discussions promoting hate or racial messages – 6%, sites which showed images of self-harm – 3%, anorexia and bulimia – 3%.

The survey concludes that although the results provide a wide view of the online practice of children and young people, the results do not provide enough depth to understand the reasons behind certain behaviour. The researchers suggest that the survey results must be augmented with research collected through focus groups and interviews with young people. They also suggest that children should be involved in the policy decisions which effect them in the present as well as the near future.

The EU Kids Online research was coordinated by the University of Malta, in collaboration with the Malta Communications Authority, the Directorate for Learning and Assessment Programmes, with the support of the Besmartonline! consortium (Tech.mt, Commissioner for Children, Foundation for Social Welfare Services, and the Cybercrime Unit). This publication is based on the Italian EU Kids Online Report.

The research team of composed Stephen Camilleri, Lorleen Farrugia, Dunstan Hamilton, Mary Anne Lauri, Isaac Sammut and Mark Spiteri.