Sensationalist media coverage of online risks such as cyberbullying or the dangers of meeting an online ‘friend’ offline may be acting as a barrier to effectively educating children on e-safety.
A report from the EU Kids Online project based at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) that explored how children between the ages of 9-16 across Europe experience the internet states that children are strongly influenced by the media’s often sensationalist reporting of certain online risks, despite the fact that these are in reality less likely to be experienced by the majority of online users.
The report that was released on June 2, 2014 says that sensationalism can lead to children focusing more attention on the potential risks than those they are more likely to experience, such as exposure to violent or sexual content, which is in reality a more common online problem reported by children, or witnessing or receiving nasty messages.
E-safety education, the researchers recommend, should therefore incorporate the need to educate children on the drawbacks of some media coverage as well as warning about potential online dangers.
Dr Leslie Haddon, a visiting lecturer at LSE and one of the report’s authors, said: “We believe that most of the current prevention programmes are too narrowly focused on issues such as personal data protection and the dangers of meeting online strangers offline whereas children are in reality, more likely to have to deal with nasty messages. Children need a more thorough and broader education about the online world to help them to evaluate better and deal with the broad assortment of problematic situations they may encounter.”
The research also shows how children’s perceptions of online interactions can differ from adults. This is especially the case with online bullying, with children reporting the online aggression they have experienced as something that ‘just happens’ rather than viewing it as cyberbullying. This can lead to children disengaging or minimising their problems with this online behaviour, which can have the result of normalising peer aggression.
Professor Sonia Livingstone who heads the EU Kids Online project at LSE said: “It’s important to help children to understand how ‘just teasing’ can escalate into serious harmful incidents. Once they see how online communication can make things worse, children should be motivated to take preventive measures to neutralise aggressive exchanges before they get out of hand.”
A London School of Economics article.