Maltese children completely ‘hooked’ on digital technology
The latest survey in the use of ICT by children shows increased sophistication in the use of technology, but also raises questions on the misuse and potential dangers for minors.
While 97 per cent of primary school children and 99 per cent of secondary school children have internet access at home and the use of mobiles and tablets is clear, the use of social networking is on the rise even among the very young, sometimes with the consent of their parents. Indeed, half of primary school children have internet access in their bedrooms.
The survey was carried out last May and covered 566 students, aged between eight and 15, and their parents. These were randomly chosen and attended 23 State, Church and independent schools.
The research, commissioned by the Malta Communications Authority (MCA), was partially funded by the European Commission as part of the BeSmartOnline project under the EU Safer Internet Programme.
Internet usage continues to increase with access spilling to tablets, games consoles and mobile phones. The computer/laptop is still king, with between 76 and 82 per cent usage across the different age groups. Then comes the games console but the tablet, a very recent development in the digital lifestyle, already makes a mark with around 16 per cent.
The location of internet access speaks volumes on the digital lifestyle of Maltese children and the situation at home. Around 58 per cent of all students interviewed have internet access in their bedroom, with 49 per cent of the 8-11 years age group having such, as opposed to 68 per cent in the 14-15 years age bracket.
Only seven per cent of parents said they do not afford or do not know whether they afford internet access at home. Only half the parents of the primary-level children think they know much more than their children in terms of how to use internet, and a staggering 66 per cent of parents of 14-15 year olds feel at a loss when they see their children online.
Children appear to be more knowledgeable about online risks than their parents but parents appear more concerned about potential risks than their children.
Parents also seem to over-trust children possibly because they feel alien to the technology or because they feel that their children are knowledgeable enough to take care for themselves. As children grow up parents to tend to supervise them less while online.
Twenty-seven per cent of parents think their children spend too much time online but, if this takes into account the different age brackets of children, the amount shoots up from 13 per cent of small children to 46 per cent for 14-15-year olds.
Children as young as eight use a mobile phone, with 46 per cent saying they use it to stay in touch with parents and 18 percent to access the internet. The same pattern is also observed with the other age cohorts, though as expected, the older cohorts also use it more to stay in touch with friends.
While it seems technology is also being used for communication between parents and their children, the survey detects a problem. Students are often not abiding to age restrictions for gaming and social networking.
Taking Facebook as an example, 41 per cent of 8-11 year olds said they have a Facebook account when Facebook strictly prohibits its use by minors under 13 . Ninety per cent of 14-15 year olds use this social network.
A similar issue is detected with games, where 67 per cent of boys admitted they always or sometimes play video games that are not appropriate for their age. Only 28 per cent of girls do so.
This 14-15-year-old teen cohort seems to use communication technology heavily. Apart from Facebook, 71 per cent said they use Google+/Gmail, 68 per cent use Skype, 31 per cent use Twitter, and 19 per cent use iTunes to download content for their Apple iPhone or iPad.
On the other hand, the younger cohort is more into online games.
The difference between genders is noticeable. While boys and girls have very similar interests while in primary school, significant differences emerge in secondary school.
In the 12-13-year-old group, 78 per cent of boys play online games but only 36 per cent of girls do so. In terms of the use of social network they are almost at par, but in terms of chatting the split is 63 per cent for boys and 81 per cent for girls.
The latter also seem more interested in using internet in their studies, with only 57 per cent of boys as opposed to 76 per cent of girls saying they research online.
In terms of cyber-bullying, 20 per cent of all males and females say they know of cases, and around seven per cent admit they have been bullied online.
The full results of the survey are available from the MCA’s website www.mca.org.mt.