Middle class children are most at risk from internet use


12 Jan 2012
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Middle class children are most at risk from internet use

Middle-class children are more likely to be harmed by internet use than those in poorer households.

They are more prone to being bullied, seeing p**nographic images, receiving sexual messages and indulging in risky behaviour such as meeting up with people they have only met online, say researchers.

However, their parents tend to be woefully ignorant about what their children get up to on the web.

The author of the study said middle-class children were at greater risk because they were more likely to know their way round the internet and to have a personal computer in their bedroom, or a smartphone.

Sonia Livingstone, professor of social policy at the London School of Economics, called on parents to talk to their children about their internet use, so any potential harm can be nipped in the bud. She said she was particularly concerned about her finding that a third of girls aged 14 to 16 had visited a site for anorexics.

And her survey of more than 1,000 children also found that more than half of children – 51 per cent – admitted they had neglected homework and ignored family and friends because of their excessive internet use.

Professor Livingstone blamed the ‘culture of fear’ which deters parents from allowing children to play outdoors, saying that there were also dangers if their child was on the internet in their bedroom.

She pointed out, however, that there was no need for parents to panic, because the risk of a child being harmed by the use of the net was still small.

Her study, carried out in late 2010, looked at risky online behaviour among children, in particular seeing sexual imagery, receiving sexual messages, being bullied and meeting up with people they had only met online.

It found that, across all types of behaviour, those in the ‘high social and economic group’ were more likely to be at risk.

For example, 30 per cent of the high group had seen sexual images online, compared to 25 per cent among a lower income group.

Some 26 per cent have been bullied online, compared to 21 per cent; and 17 per cent had sent or received sexual messages compared to 14 per cent.

Professor Livingstone said: ‘When I began my research, I thought middle class children would be more skilled or would have more skilled parents to guide them, and would use the internet in a less risky way.

‘I thought that perhaps children from poorer homes, with less educated parents, would use the internet in a more risky way. But what I found was the opposite.

‘This is probably because middle class parents tend to steer their children towards the opportunities on the internet, so they use the internet more widely and deeply.

‘They end up more confident to explore the internet, and what happens is if you use it more comprehensively you’ll find more risks.’

She added: ‘Children from poorer backgrounds don’t get these risks as often but also they don’t get the benefits of the internet. Their parents are less well educated, they have slower broadband speeds and spend less time online.’

Professor Livingstone’s study also found that parents often had no idea what their child was doing on the internet. Of the children who told interviewers that they had seen sexual images, 40 per cent of their parents said they were certain their children had not, and 29 per cent said they did not know.

She said parents needed to talk to their children about their internet use. ‘Many feel they don’t want to snoop and also display their own ignorance but they need to have these conversations; talking to children is very important.

‘And then if the child sees something that upsets them, they are more likely to go to their parent to talk about it.’

However, she added: ‘This is not a message of panic, we are not saying all children are getting into problems. Most do not encounter anything awful, and most of those who do are fairly resilient; they laugh it off. But it is hard for parents to know what their children are seeing, and often they do not see there is a problem until it is too late.’

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2119665/Middle-class-children-risk-internet-use.html#ixzz1qBO5DaPX
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