For most of us, going online has become a daily habit. For younger people, the Internet is not a new habit: it is simply part of the natural environment. In spite of this, children’s online lives have seldom been systematically studied.
In a scenario where societies are faced with the challenge of regulating internet access; where media spend billions to develop attractive content for girls and boys; where schools aim to promote digital competencies and safe use of digital media, producing reliable data on patterns of Internet use by children, as well as opportunities and risks young people encounter online, is essential to foster effective evidence-based policymaking.
Since 2014, Latin American researchers – from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Equator and Uruguay – have worked within a network to both discuss methodological approaches and support the production of indicators and quantitative and qualitative studies about children online in countries from the region.
In addition to maintaining active participation in various academic fora, several countries are part of the Global Kids Online network, an initiative launched by the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), and the EU Kids Online network.
The Kids Online survey, conducted annually since 2012 by the Regional Center for Studies on the Development of the Information Society (Cetic.br), was created to address the lack of reliable and methodologically sound data on the topic in the country. Cetic.br fosters dialogue among stakeholders when policy developments are being discussed, including the role of governments, international organizations and industry – such as in promoting and protecting rights for children online.
In Brazil, both the local government – through the Ministry of Justice – and international organizations, such as UNICEF, have relied on data from the Kids Online survey for developing and discussing public policies aimed at children.
Throughout its editions, the Brazilian Kids Online survey has pointed to the existence of a significant portion of children who do not use the Internet. Findings have shown that about eight out of ten children aged 9 to 17 – about 23 million – are considered Internet users in Brazil, whereas 6.3 million children are still unconnected, of whom 3.6 million have never accessed the Internet.
Thus, in countries such as Brazil, it continues to be critical to investigate the profile of nonusers, or those who have not overcome initial barriers to digital inclusion. And it often requires considerable effort to promote equal online opportunities.
And among those who are connected, results have shown the persistence of regional and socioeconomic inequalities that restrict opportunities for children. Although Internet use through mobile technology has become increasingly frequent among Brazilian children across all socioeconomic levels, a significant portion face restrictions on use. More than half of connected children from low-income families rely exclusively on mobile phones to go online, while 12 per cent of children from high-income families are limited to mobile access.
The Kids Online survey was coordinated by UNICEF and included both quantitative and qualitative data collection. The survey was administered to 1,106 adolescents aged 13-18, using a representative sample at the national and regional levels.
The qualitative research included 12 focus groups with 60 adolescents aged 13-18, and 32 parents with children in the same age range. Additionally, UNICEF organized dialogues with government, academia and private sector representatives, with the participation of UNICEF Innocenti, to deepen the understanding of the results.
Argentina Kids Online is already helping to inform policies on digital citizenship and literacy. For example, it has been presented to the Committee that is currently writing Argentina’s “Convergent Communications Law,” which will amend existing legislation in relation to telecommunications, cable television and audio-visual services in general
To support Argentina Kids Online, UNICEF also launched #FamiliasConectadas, a series of seven videos in which well-known actors and actresses reflect on how they talk about using social media and the internet with their own children. This was an additional angle to disseminate the report, reaching a different audience.
A first version of the Kids Online survey is being conducted by researchers from three universities: Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and Universidad de Chile. The questionnaire was adapted from the Kids Online survey applied in Brazil and included all core questions from the Global Kids Online study. The survey was applied to a probabilistic sample of 1,000 children and teenagers from ages 9 to 17 and one parent or caretaker, in the fifteen regions of the country.
The main dimensions included were access, opportunities, risks, mediation, harm and digital skills. The project has been supported and funded by the Ministry of Education and UNESCO. The fieldwork will end by November 2016 and the main results will be released in April 2017 in an international conference in Santiago.
After the general results, special reports and papers will be published considering specific topics and comparative analysis with Brazil Global Kids Online and future versions of EU Kids Online.
Among the organizations that provide institutional support for the research projects described are the EU Kids Online network, UNICEF, UNESCO and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). The network proposes to adapt the theoretical and methodological framework of the EU Kids Online network to the Latin American context and to promote sharing of experiences among researchers, also fostering international data comparability.
Global Kids Online is an international research project that aims to generate and sustain a rigorous cross-national evidence base around children’s use of the internet by creating a global network of researchers and experts. The project offers a global research toolkit that enables academics, governments, civil society and other actors to carry out reliable and standardised national research with children and their parents on the opportunities, risks and protective factors of children’s internet use.