University of Tartu media researchers: Estonian children are smart internet users

  • 2020-02-11
  • TBT Staff

While Estonian children have previously shown a rather risky online behaviour, a new study classifies them as fairly smart internet users among European peers.

According to the recent report of the international research network EU Kids Online, Estonian children are rather active and diverse users of the internet compared to their European peers. At the same time, they experience online risks comparatively rarely. In terms of disturbing online experiences, Estonian children are at the European average level.

The majority of 9–16-year-olds in 19 European countries report using their smartphones daily or almost all the time. This marks a substantial increase in both the proportion of smartphone-using children as well as the amount of their internet use compared with the EU Kids Online 2010 survey.

There are still considerable differences between European countries. For instance, the time children spend online varies between 2.2 hours per day (Switzerland) and 3.6 hours (Norway). Estonian children with their 2.9 hours online per day represent the European average, sharing the 7–9th place with Lithuania and the Czech Republic. Children mostly use the internet to watch videos, communicate with their family and friends, visit social media sites and play games.

Estonia and Lithuania stand out positively

The study mapped the participating countries according to the diversity of children’s online activities as well as online risks and harm they encounter. During the month preceding the survey, Estonian children engaged in more than nine different online activities on average, placing them among the best in Europe. At the same time, Estonian children encountered fewer online risks (below 1.5) than their European peers on average. Only the survey among Lithuanian children showed similar results.

Veronika Kalmus, head of the Estonian research team of EU Kids Online and Professor of Sociology of the University of Tartu, said that such a positive result for Estonia and Lithuania was for her the greatest surprise of the survey. “Online behaviour of Estonian children has become smarter and more mature, children are now better at using the opportunities of the online world and avoiding excessive risk-taking,” summarised Kalmus.

Potential for improvement

A quarter of Estonian 9–16-year-olds reported having encountered disturbing content (some type of online harm) on the internet during the year preceding the survey. This figure represents the European average (25%) and has remained the same compared to the 2010 survey.

Most often, Estonian children reported concern about an unfriendly online environment: cyberbullying and hate speech. The percentage of children who had experienced cyberbullying has not decreased over the years, but Estonia is no longer leading in Europe in that aspect. Moreover, a relatively small percentage of Estonian children (12%) reported having been very upset by cyberbullying (compared to 29% in the Czech Republic, for instance).

Estonian parents do well

Children’s internet use has become a more common topic in families: 59% of Estonian 9–16-year-olds reported that they often or sometimes discuss their online activities with their parents. Although more active mediation is more common among parents of girls and younger children, Estonian parents have generally started to pay more attention to their children’s internet use.

Andra Siibak, member of the Estonian research team of EU Kids Online and Professor of Media Studies of the University of Tartu, said she was happy to see that compared to the results of eight years ago, the rather carefree attitude of Estonian parents towards their children’s internet use has slowly started to change and parents are becoming more active in applying different parental mediation strategies.

One aspect by which Estonian parents stand out in the comparison with other countries is that they normally do not share online content concerning the child that would seem inappropriate for the child or require removal. During the month preceding the survey, only 1% of the Estonian 12–16-year-olds participating in the survey had asked their parents to remove a social media post their parents had made about them. By this figure, Estonia holds the first place among participating countries along with Germany, Lithuania and Slovakia.

The EU Kids Online network brings together researchers from more than 30 European countries studying the internet use of children and young people. The first EU Kids Online survey was carried out in 2010 in 25 European countries. The results of the study are used to bring more safety and awareness into children’s internet use and develop recommendations and guidelines on the topic. On the basis of the results, recommendations are given to improve children’s internet safety and media literacy. Estonia is represented in the EU Kids Online network by the research team from the Institute of Social Studies of the University of Tartu. More information is available on the Estonian website of EU Kids Online.