How European kids cope with online risks?

The LSE Media and Communications Department published last month a new report on online child protection titled How to cope and build online resilience? The report presents new findings on the coping strategies European children use when bothered by a negative experience online, and whether or not they evaluate these as useful. The study also identifies which children are most vulnerable and most resilient to online risks as well as the factors that make some children more likely to use successful strategies to overcome the problem. The report is based on the answers of kids that had reported to felt bothered by online risks such as sexual images, online bullying and sexting.

Findings on types of coping strategies and their usefulness

The study defines coping strategies as thoughts and behaviors to adapt to stressful or disturbing situations, in order to protect oneself from further psychological harm. The report also differentiates three categories of strategies (Fatalistic/passive or passive coping, Communicative coping and Proactive coping) that are used by the kids depending on the kind of online risk.

The report finds that “most children used a combination of strategies” but “across all risks and across all children, talking to somebody was the most popular coping strategy.” In regards to the usefulness of the strategies used, “the majority of children evaluated the strategy they used as helpful”. The study specifies that “for upsetting sexual content, deleting the message was rated as most helpful (82%). In regards to online bullying, blocking the sender was evaluated as the most helpful strategy (78%). Finally, for sexting, deleting messages and blocking the sender were rated as (almost) equally helpful (78% and 79% respectively).”

Which children are most vulnerable and most resilient to online risks?

The report defines resilience as the ability to deal with negative experiences online or offline. Although the authors of the report are aware that resilience is a continuum variable from very low to very high, in order to learn more about its predictors, they decided to operationalize it as a dichotomous variable. The study, therefore, differentiates low resilient children from high resilient ones depending on the times they felt bothered after exposure to one or more online risks. Whereas low resilient kids were bothered at least once, high resilient kids never felt bothered (“just a little bit upset and got over it straight away”). The report found that most vulnerable children used a fatalistic/passive coping strategy (e.g. hoping the problem would go away, or stopped using the internet). On the other hand, most resilient children used communicative and proactive strategies.

Factors that make some children more likely to use successful strategies to overcome the problem

The study identifies 3 main categories of factors that are related to the resilience of the kid. These are individual characteristics (sociodemographic and psychological), the social context (peer support, teacher support and parental mediation) and the online activities. Taking into account these factors, the report concludes that:

  1. Girls, younger children, those with low self-efficacy and psychological problems are in need of special attention.
  2. The relationship between the social context and the use of coping strategies is less straight forward.

Last but not least, and based on the findings of the study, the authors recommend 7 measures to build online resilience among European kids:

  1. Encourage open communication, both at home and at school.
  2. Show children how to use (online) proactive coping strategies.
  3. Help children tackle their psychological problems and build self-confidence.
  4. Keep promoting internet access and use among adults.
  5. Promote a positive attitude towards online safety and proactive coping strategies among peer groups.
  6. Even though, in general terms, levels of teacher mediation are high, a large minority of children is still not reached by a teacher’s guidance. This suggests that schools, especially primary ones, and teachers should provide more active support with regard to children’s internet use and safety.
  7. Depending on the type of risk, a monitoring or mediating approach seems to be more beneficial for children’s online resilience.

To ensure a safe use of Internet by kids is key as they need to grab all the benefits offered by new technologies and the network information avoiding unfortunate experiences when using Internet.

Education is key of course but as we already said in other occasion, the approach must be global, including a whole range of stakeholders from parents, to operators, educators and public institutions. And we are all working in that way. We will keep you posted next week as we will celebrate the Safer Internet Day 2013 on the 5 February. Keep tuned!


Lourdes Tejedor / @madrid2day

Telefónica Public Policy & Telefónica España Regulatory teams