Toddlers rush online—to unknown risks

Over the last six years there has been a major increase in online activity by children up to eight years old, a leading international internet survey has found.

The trend has prompted growing concern for children’s safety – and especially the risks they may be exposed to through videos, apps and touch-screens, says the EU Kids Online Report, to which Australia contributes through the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation (CCI).

“Children under nine years old now enjoy a variety of online activities, including watching videos, , searching for information, doing their homework and within children’s virtual worlds. The range of activities increases with age,” explains Dr Donell Holloway, an associate investigator with CCI at Edith Cowan University.

“Results from previous AU Kids Online research show that, compared to children in other countries, Aussie kids are early adopters of new digital technologies—so the findings of this report probably apply here”.

“However there is a lack of  about how children under nine are using the internet in Australia, on the benefits and risks – which we need to overcome quite urgently.”

The report says it has not been established that children under nine years old have the capacity to engage with internet in a safe and beneficial manner in all circumstances, especially when it comes to this age group socialising online, either within age-appropriate virtual worlds or as under-aged participants in sites intended for teenagers and adults (such as Facebook, You Tube etc.).

“Video sharing sites are popular with children in this age group and are one of the first sites very young children visit. As such, the ease at with children can access inappropriate  is of concern,” Dr Holloway says. “The widespread availability of touch-screen devices nowadays means that very young children can access and use the internet far more easily.

The report finds there is an emerging trend among very young children (toddlers and pre-schoolers) using internet connected devices, especially touchscreen tablets and smartphones. This is likely to result in an increasing number of very young children having access to the internet, along with a probable increase in exposure to risks associated with such internet use.



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