A generation of UK youth are being ‘raised online’

[news release] Many young people are effectively being ‘raised online’ spending in excess of 20 hours a week using sites such as bebo, Myspace, Facebook and YouTube, according to new research to be published by the Institute for Public Policy Research (ippr) next month. This is over three times higher than previous official estimates. This new research comes ahead of the final report of the Byron Review of children and new technology, set up by Gordon Brown in 2007 and headed by Dr Tanya Byron.ippr worked with young people aged between 13 and 18, holding deliberative workshops and in-depth interviews. The research found that young people are ‘constantly connected’ staying up to the early hours with many leaving their mobile phones on all night in case they receive a text message. But a lack of parental knowledge and understanding means that few have any idea about what their children are doing online.”My mum will ask sometimes ‘is it safe?’ but she doesn’t really know” (Girl, 16, ABC1)”Everyone lies about their age ‘cos I think it’s like if you’re under 18, your profile gets set to private” (Girl, 15)”We have restrictions at school but we can just get an administrator’s account and take them off” (Boy, 14)”Restrictions stop you going on bad sites, like games sites and stuff. If you take them off you can go on anything” (Boy, 14).”I want to spend less time ‘cos what I do on it is just really pointless – like MySpace is just really addictive” (Girl, 17)”First it was like everyone was on MSN, then everyone sort of has Bebo, now everyone who had MSN moved on to Facebook so it’s just what everyone’s doing at that time” (Girl, 16)

“Some things they [parents] don’t understand and they ask me to explain it to them but they still don’t understand” (Girl, 13)The report argues that with children being ‘raised online’ the Government and internet companies need to do more to protect young people from inappropriate content and to promote and enforce guidelines on the limits of acceptable behaviour. ippr’s report will recommend that:

  • Ofcom should produce an annual report on the effectiveness of initiatives aimed at tackling harmful internet content. It should make recommendations to Government where gaps exist (for example, in tackling violent user generated content online) and where industry should be taking further action. If industry does not make progress in this area, the Government should consider extending Ofcom’s remit to cover internet content.
  • Sites popular with young people, for example MySpace, Bebo and YouTube, should develop cross-industry guidelines setting out the limits of what young people can expect and how young people are expected to behave in return. Ofcom should approve this and ensure sites are enforcing these guidelines.
  • Such sites should commit to existing schemes to keep young people safe online for instance by becoming funding members of the Internet Watch Foundation.
  • The Department for Children Schools and Families (DCFS) should be given overall control for media literacy. Information and support for parents should be provided through the extended schools programme and available through initiatives such as Sure Start; so that parents can make sure their children get the best out of the internet without being exposed to unnecessary risks.

Kay Withers, ippr research fellow and report author, said:”The internet offers great benefits and opportunities for young people. But with kids spending an ever increasing amount of time online parents need to be reassured about what they are looking at. Government needs to improve media literacy programmes for kids and to make sure parents are aware of how they can support young people’s positive online experiences. But more importantly internet companies need to take more responsibility for the content on their sites and promote acceptable behaviour.”Notes to Editors:Behind the Screen: the Hidden Life of Youth by Kay Withers with Ruth Sheldon is published in April and will be available to download.The report used original qualitative research with young people aged between 13 and 18. This included deliberative workshops with 30 young people from a range of socio-economic backgrounds, diary research and indepth interviews with 12 young people. All young people interviewed had broadband access at home and owned a mobile phone.Four out of five 5 – 15 year olds have access to the internet at home. Almost half of children (49 percent) between aged 8 and 11, and eight out of ten aged 12 to 15 have their own mobile phone. Two in five (40%) of 8-11s and over two-thirds (71%) of 12-15s say they mostly use the internet on their own at home.Although internet sites have community guidelines or acceptable use policies these are not always properly enforced. On YouTube for example, a search for the term “happy slap” delivered 117 videos posted in the last week and “street fight” 312 videos. The most popular video on the website Pure Street Fight was called “Girl Beat Up In Street” and had been viewed 1,349,046 times.Fifty-seven percent of children have reported having come into contact with online porn, most of it accidentally such as in the form of pop-ups, and one in four had received pornographic spam. Although around half of all parents with internet access had some kind of blocking in place to stop their children viewing certain types of websites, in 2005 just seven percent of parents were aware that their child has received sexual comments through this form of media.Unlike television programmes, internet content is not subject to any restrictions beyond general UK law (for instance, the Obscene Publications Act, Sexual Offences Act, and laws relating to race hatred, defamation and libel). No single Governing body in the UK has responsibility for guiding the UK Government’s response / approach to potentially harmful internet content, which was explicitly excluded from Ofcom’s remit under the UK’s Communications Act 2003.Under the Communications Act, Ofcom has a duty to promote media literacy. Media education forms a limited part of the National Curriculum but ippr has identified important gaps in children’s media literacy which are not currently addressed.In 2006, Ofcom’s audit of media literacy of children and young people concluded that young people spend an average of 6.2 hours a week on the internet. Ofcom’s Communications Market Report from 2007 says that young people (12 – 17) use the internet on average 24.9 hours a month.UK adults spend more time on social networking sites than their European neighbours, with 4 in 10 UK adults saying that they regularly visit the sites. The UK adults who visit the sites spend an average of 5.3 hours each month on them and return to them an average 23 times in the month.Use of SNS (% of adults with internet access)

  • UK – 39 per cent
  • US – 34 per cent
  • Canada – 53 per cent
  • Germany – 12 per cent

[From International Communications Market Report, Ofcom Dec 2007 www.ofcom.org.uk/research/cm/icmr07/]The Byron Review was set up in September 2007 by the Prime Minister. Headed by Dr Tanya Byron the review is examining the risks to children from exposure to potentially harmful or inappropriate material on the internet and in video games. www.dfes.gov.uk/byronreviewThe Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee is currently conducting an inquiry into the potential risks from harmful material on the Internet and in video games. It is particularly concerned with the potential risks posed by:

  • “Cyber bullying”;
  • user generated content, including content that glorifies guns and gang violence;
  • the availability of personal information on social networking sites;
  • content that incites racial hatred, extremism or terrorism; and
  • content that exhibits extreme pornography or violence.

The Internet Watch Foundation is an independent body set up to minimise the availability of potentially illegal internet content. It is funded by the EU and the wider online industry. Facebook, YouTube, Myspace, Bebo are not currently members of the Internet Watch Foundation: iwf.org.ukThis news release was sourced from www.ippr.org.uk/pressreleases/?id=3059.

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