May 21, 2014

The Net Children Go Mobile Project Launches Its Report At The ICA 64th Annual Conference

International Communication Association

72 percent of children think smartphone use leads to overdependence on the technology

The Net Children Go Mobile project will release new data on children's mobile use at the 64th Annual Conference of the International Communication Association at the Seattle Sheraton hotel. The project found that 46% of children own a smartphone and 41% use it daily to go online, while 20% own a tablet but 23% use it on a daily basis to access the Internet. Smartphone and tablet users engage more in communication and entertainment activities. They also have a higher level of digital skills, safety skills, and communicative abilities. However, they are more likely to be exposed to online risks.

These risks do not necessarily mean harm, but cyberbullying is still the most harmful risky experience: two out of three children who have been bullied or cyberbullied claim they have been 'very' or 'a bit' upset. And sexual risks a come in second: half of the children who have received sexual messages or have seen sexual content of any kind (on- and offline) have been bothered by this action. While smartphones and tablet users encounter more risks, they do not report more harmful experiences. Mobile Internet access and use is not a factor creating vulnerability.

ICA member Giovanna Mascheroni, Universita Cattolica di Milano, who heads the Europe-wide project, said, "Exposure to online risks appears greater among children who also use mobile devices to go online when compared to the 2010 EU Kids Online data. This is not a causal relationship, though. Rather, we observe the same correlation between opportunities and risks: Older users and smartphone and tablet users benefit from more online opportunities, but are also exposed to more risks. As children go online more in a variety of contexts and from a wider range of devices, they also encounter more risks."

The affective relationship with smartphones: Like mobile phones before them, smartphones are personal, always-at-hand devices that support a feeling of perpetual contact with friends and family. Indeed, most children think it is 'a bit' (39%) or 'very' (42%) true that they feel more connected to their friends thanks to smartphones. However, the affective relationship with smartphones is likely to turn into overdependence: three out of four children (72%) think it is true that 'Since I have had my smartphone I feel I have to be always available to family and friends.'

While teenagers are almost twice as likely to think of smartphones as tools that facilitate a stronger connection with their peer group, both children aged 9-12 and teenagers aged 13-16 associate smartphones with the pressure to be 'always on.' Fifty percent of children reported feeling a 'strong' need' to check their phones to see if anything new has happened, and 38% of children reported feeling 'very' or 'fairly' often bothered when they could not use their phone.