Internet and Digital Technology Use among Children and Youth in Serbia
Overview of EU Kids Online Survey Results
Pupils spend more than 3 hours a day on the internet on average, the oldest ones even up to 4.5 hours, while two-thirds of pupils spend between 4 and 7 hours on internet on weekends, according to EU Kids Online Survey .
The Internet is primarily used for entertaining and communicating with other people.
More than two-thirds (74%) of children and young people have a profile on some social network or video game platform, 41% of those aged 9-10 and 72% aged 11-12 say they have a profile, despite the fact that the minimum age limit prescribed by social networks is usually 13 years.
About a third of the pupils surveyed have problems because of the amount of time they spend online, or they are getting into conflicts with family or friends. Slightly less than half unsuccessfully try to spend less time on the Internet and is neglecting real life socializing and their responsibilities (eg. school assignments), are feeling unwell when unable to go online, while almost one fifth is neglecting their basic biological needs (need for food, sleep).
Pupils’ digital skills
According to the European Key Competence Framework, digital competence has the status of one of eight key competences in education. It is defined as the ability to critically and safely use technology at work, for leisure and communication.
Serbian pupils rate their digital literacy skills above average.
On a scale of 1 to 10, the average marks obtained in five skill groups:
Social (removing social media contact, knowing what to share, what not, etc.) (9.2) - highest score
Operational skills (saving image, privacy settings, etc.) (8,6)
Mobile usage skills (installing apps, keeping track of app usage costs, etc.) (8.0)
Information and navigation skills (selecting keywords to search on web, verifying the accuracy of information found on the internet, etc. (7,7),
The lowest average score is Creative skills related to digital content (creating and posting music and videos online, editing existing content, etc.) (6,7)
Upsetting online experiences and cyberbullying
Every third pupil in the last year has experienced some disturbing online experiences.
The number of children who frequently experienced upsetting incidents was highest in the 13-14 age group.
In such situations, nearly a quarter of pupils did not talk to anyone about their problem, ignored the problem thinking that it would disappear on their own, or closed the window or application, and nearly a third blocked the harasser. The largest number of pupils who talked about an upsetting experience spoke with a friend of similar age (45%), 31% said they spoke with a parent or guardian. A very small percentage (3%) spoke to teachers.
16% of pupils experienced digital bullying while 15% experienced it in live interaction. Pupils are more likely to admit they are being victims than to have perpetrated digital violence themselves.
Risky online behaviours characterise from 13% to 51%, of pupils, depending on the type of behaviour. Mostly it is about sharing personal information, "friendships" on social networks and making contacts (first over the internet and later live) with strangers, hiding behind a false identity.
Exposure to sexual content
Every other pupil at the age of 9-17, has in the past year encountered content of a sexual nature, much more frequently in digital than in print media.
Television content is the most common and seems to be a completely normalized source of sexual content for young people where explicit sexual content can be seen on national televisions in the afternoon and early evening.
88% of those who saw such content on the internet saw it in the popup content.
Almost a third of children and young people age 11-17 have accessed a pornographic content website in the last year.
Mediation by parents / guardians and teachers
The younger the children, the more adults are expected to mediate their use of digital technology and the Internet. When they are mediating it is primarily aimed at protecting safety and preventing negative behaviour, and much less towards making meaningful use of digital technology.
- 44% of pupils have parents often explaining them how to use the internet safely
- 41% of pupils have parents help when they get annoyed with something online
- 35% pupils talk with parents about what they do on the internet.
- 29% say they are often encouraged by their parents to research and learn online,
Parents are more aware and more likely to mediate girls' activities than boys.
Even in the younger age group (9-12), more than half of the pupils surveyed often help their parents when they are unable to do something online, while in the older age group (13-17), three quarters of the students surveyed do so.
Parents in Serbia rarely use technical safeguarding measuring such as "parental controls" to ensure the safety of children online (less than a fifth of pupils reports on this), much less frequently than parents in other countries.
Judging from pupils' responses, teachers do not sufficiently encourage them to use the internet in a constructive way. Less than a third of the pupils surveyed (28%) said that teachers at school often encouraged them to research and learn using digital devices, 32% said that teachers did this occasionally, and as many as 30% said that teachers at school never or almost never encouraged them to use digital technology in this way.
The conclusion of the research is that children are beginning to use the Internet at a young age, in a personalized way (from their own, mobile devices), without proper parent / guardian insight into their activities, which has important policy and practice implications.
- Adults (parents / guardians, and especially educators) must acquire appropriate digital skills in order to be able to prepare children in time to "enter" the digital world.
- It is the responsibility of adults, above all Internet policy makers, to ensure not only access to, but also protection of children in the digital realm, as well as to enable them to enjoy their rights in the digital environment.
- Denying the use of the Internet is not a recommended measure for a number of reasons: under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, children have the right to access developmentally appropriate media content, including the Internet; by denying them access to the Internet, they are denied the opportunities it provides, as an extremely powerful information and cognitive tool; in addition, they are denied the opportunity to acquire the skills that are crucial for successful functioning in a digitized society.
- The recommendation for adults is that they focus not on the amount of time a child spends in front of the screen, but on the quality of that time, that is, the content of the activity and the context of use.
- Pupils should be supported, from an early age, first in the family context and then in school, not only to use the internet for fun, but also for a variety of other meaningful and useful activities (acquiring different skills, finding useful information, school assignments, etc.). .
- Special attention must be paid to more vulnerable children, so they are enabled to develop strategies for overcoming stress in daily life, which will contribute to a more constructive use of the Internet.
It is necessary to work on strengthening pupils' competences for:
- protection on social networks
- finding, selecting and evaluating information on the Internet, as well as generally developing critical thinking skills
- creating content in digital format, which is one of the key aspects of digital literacy.
- Understanding what is harmful content, what are the negative consequences of exposure to this type of content and how to react when they encounter it through digital media, to whom and how they can report any harmful content on the Internet
It is important to work systematically on sensitizing pupils and raising awareness of the negative effects of digital violence. 7th and 8th grade elementary school pupils represent the riskiest age group; preventive measures should be intensified at this age.
Given the finding that "victims" of digital violence most often seek help from their peers, it would be useful to conduct peer education at schools, to organize peer support groups online or to provide online counseling for young people who have experienced digital violence.
In these situations, it is necessary to encourage them to turn to the help and support of adults, close people they trust as well as professionals and teachers at the school.
It is important for young people to develop awareness of the digital footprint they leave when they use Internet. Not only children, but also their parents, who share information about their children even when they do not approve it (so-called sharenting), have to become more aware while sharing personal information in the public space is harmful when it comes to the risks of it as well as children's privacy rights.
All those who collect personal information about children must apply appropriate safety measures in accordance with international standards and domestic legislation. All Internet services (digital tools, platforms, applications) used by children and young people should be designed to provide maximum protection for their privacy.
When it comes to television programme, it is necessary to take additional measures to increase the level of protection of children and young people. Regarding explicit sexual and pornographic content, it should be borne in mind that there are tools to prevent this type of content from being accessed by children.
Systemic measures need to be taken to strengthen the capacity of educational institutions to assume a key role in the development of pupils' digital competencies, starting with infrastructure support for schools, teacher training, curriculum innovation, etc.
The results of this research show that today's children and young people are largely left to themselves when it comes to the digital environment. It is therefore very important to empower adults to actively mediate in development of pupils' digital skills that are necessary for responsible, safe and meaningful use of the Internet and digital technology.
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