Children challenge each other to watch violent content online, including videos of beheadings and traffic accidents, says a new report.
Elisabeth Staksrud is Professor at the Department of Media and Communication at the University of Oslo. As one of 150 scientists in an international research network, she has worked to identify how children and young people use the new media.
- In 2010, 25,000 European children and one of their parents attended a comprehensive survey. We try to convert the results into practical advices that politicians and parents can take advantage of, says Staksrud.
According to Staksrud, one of the most daunting platforms for children is YouTube, where they get unlimited access to detailed and varied video clips. According to the research, 59% of the children in the survey watched YouTube videos.
- Children are watching news and other clips, and they can challenge each other to watch different things, such as IS-beheadings or ugly accidents. Children do not always understand what is dangerous and could happen to themselves, and what is happening far away and not something they need to worry about in their daily lives. They need adults to explain that to them, says Staksrud.
- What frightens children the most is the reality.
YouTube has an age limit of 13 years, but is open to anyone as default. There are however, filters that parents can apply, to make Youtube less intimidating.
Parents' involvement in what their children are doing online is usually great when the children are young. But as the children grow, the involvement drops, and parents are more interested in asking how they are doing at school or in their spare time.
Staksrud believes this could be problematic.
- We forget that they have a life on the internet too. In fact, studies show that children want their parents to be more engaged around this, says Staksrud.
Experts have different views on how adults should handle the access to news related content.
Tonheim Tønnesen from the ChildMinder, gives specific advice regarding news exposure based on the child's age.
- For children under seven years, we recommend as good protection against disturbing news as possible. If they still see the strong impression from the news through television, online and newspapers, it is mandatory with custom and reassuring explanations by an adult, she says.
Between the ages of seven to ten years old, children should still be protected against the worst news stories, such as war, terror, abuse and such, she recommends.
- In this age it is difficult to know how much they understand, so a good dialogue is good for helping them to reality orientation and sorting impression, she emphasizes.
However, through research, Staksrud has seen that the most authoritarian protection strategies can be the most damaging for the children.
- Some parents can make strong regulatory limits or cut the access to the internet, but we do not recommend this, she said.
She says the reason is that children by exposure learn to manage risk perception, and thus develop a digital resistance.
In addition, severe restrictions can also reduce access to the many positive possibilities children may get by using the internet.
Many parents believe that their children never watch the news. It's wrong. News are actually something they watch the most, according to Staksrud.
- It is therefore important with an adult who can explain, for example, how far it is to Syria, and thus reassure the child, says Staksrud.
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