Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

A global survey, including responses from 800 parents of 10- to 13-year-olds in Australia and New Zealand, has revealed the disconnect between the technological abilities of the tween age group and the intellectual maturity necessary to make the right decisions in the many complex situations they face online.

To develop a better understanding of how our technology-centric society impacts the lives of today's youth, AVG Technologies, a leading provider of Internet and mobile security, has commissioned Digital Diaries, a series of studies that examines the technology habits of different age groups.

Digital Maturity, the fourth instalment of research from the series, examines how the average 10- to 13-year-old is using the Internet. While tweens aren't managing stock portfolios or paying the mortgage online, their online activity closely mirrors that of an adult. Ten- to 13-year-olds are spending large amounts of time on social networks, connected mobile devices or engaged in online gaming.

The result: tweens are open to being led into complex social situations that require adult reasoning - long before they are ready.

Michael McKinnon, Security Advisor at AVG (AU/NZ) Pty Ltd, the distributor of the award-winning AVG Internet and mobile security software in Australia, New Zealand and South Pacific, said: "Children are online at such an early age that many have developed the technical maturity of adults by their tween years. However, they have not developed the equivalent intellectual or emotional maturity necessary to make the right decisions in the many complex situations they face online.

"It is important that parents understand the role technology plays in their children's lives to help their kids be as smart and safe as possible whenever they are connected," he advised.

Who Knows Best?

The Digital Maturity survey shows that globally only 8 percent of parents believe their 10- to 13-year-old is better informed about the Internet than they are. Locally, this figure rises to 10 percent in New Zealand and 17 percent in Australia.

Fathers are much more likely to consider themselves Internet experts than Mums, with only 2 percent crediting their children with knowing more. In Australia, a quarter (23 percent) of mothers admit that their children know more about the Internet than they do.

Watching Over Them

According to global responses, just over half of all tweens have their own PC and a significant proportion of those use their PCs in their bedrooms - 36 percent in Australia and 44 percent in New Zealand which is in the middle of the range between 81 percent in Germany and 11 percent in the Czech Republic. This indicates there is often no consistent, real-time parental supervision in place.

Parents seem to be in the dark about what their kids are up to online. Only half (54 percent) of Australian and 6 in 10 (61 percent) New Zealand parents have gone into their kids' computers to monitor their activities. This compares with the US where 72 percent have done so.

And less than half (43 percent Australian and 48 percent New Zealand) of the parents have logged onto the social media profile of their 10- to 13-year-old child. In both countries, Mums are more likely to check up on their kids than Dads.

While the survey suggests that a majority of parents surveyed (92 percent) feel they are savvier about the Internet than their children, there is room for much concern about their kids' online activities.

All Things Social

A staggering 58 percent of parents admit their 10- to 13-year-olds have access to mainstream social networks, directly contravening the established minimum age restriction to join Facebook at 13 years.

For 10-year-olds in Australia and New Zealand the figures are 32 and 37 percent respectively but by the time they are 13, more than three-quarters are registered on the major social media sites via a PC and almost half (48 percent in Australia and 47 percent in New Zealand) via their mobile phones.

According to their parents, 1 in 5 (19 percent) Australian 13-year-olds is spending more than an average of an hour a day on social networks.

Just Playing Around

Having a games console is now the norm for this age group: 28 percent of Australian and 21 percent of New Zealand tweens are even spending an average of more than an hour a day on them.

McKinnon said: "Adults often take for granted the decades of daily, hourly, minute-by-minute training we call upon every time we engage with other people. And not even we can navigate social situations without having to reconcile a host of complex issues, from simple etiquette to gross invasions of privacy, sexual inappropriateness and social bias.

"The Digital Maturity survey provides encouragement to parents to help tweens develop the skills to use online networks with confidence. Importantly, parents and tweens also need to speak up if they detect an issue."

McKinnon believes the dangerous gap between the age of digital maturity and the age children achieve adult levels of emotional and intellectual maturity is essentially a perfect storm for tweens: "The phenomenon creates a situation where teens are determining the rules of engagement and the result is an environment that is often devoid of basic social courtesies and ethics. 

"Mutual respect for openness and privacy within a family is a fine line to be negotiated, be it in the real or cyber world. We know that to protect children throughout their lives, parents have to engage, set boundaries and help kids navigate both their physical and online societies," he said.

Other key findings of 10- to 13-year-olds' online experiences are:

  • Cyber bullying is the highest, at 9 percent, in Australia and the US, which is above the all countries' average of one in 20 tweens having been victims.
  • Two-thirds of parents say they know their kids' passwords. In the US, this peaks at 78 percent.
  • Tweens in Italy (90 percent), Czech Republic (86 percent) and UK (83 percent) are the most prolific users of SMS, while France (61 percent) and Australia (62 percent) used the service the least.
  • Tweens in the UK (36 percent) are more likely to own a Smartphone than their US (28 percent) and French (16 percent) counterparts.
  • Italian (76 percent) and Spanish (72 percent) tweens are most likely to have their own personal computer, while New Zealanders (40 percent) and Canadians (53 percent) are the least likely to.

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About AVG Digital Diaries Campaign

Digital Diaries is a year-long look at how technology is affecting childhood, with each stage looking at a different age group.

The first stage of AVG's Digital Diaries campaign was called Digital Birth and was released in October 2010 and covered 0-2 year olds. It found that on average infants acquire a digital identity at six months old.  

 The second stage called Digital Skills was released in January 2011 and found that for two- to five-year-olds, ‘tech' skills are increasingly replacing ‘life' skills.

The Digital Playground study, which was released in June 2011, interviewed 2200 mothers with Internet access in North America (US, Canada), the EU5 (UK, France, Italy, Germany and Spain), Japan, Australia and New Zealand with children aged between six and nine years old. This suggested that 51 percent of six to nine year olds frequent children's social sites but are generally unprepared for the dangers lurking within them.

The Digital Maturity study interviewed over 4,000 parents with Internet access in North America (US, Canada), the EU5 (UK, France, Italy, Germany and Spain), Japan, Australia and New Zealand with children aged between 10 and 13 years old.

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