Norwegian youth ‘always’ online

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Norwegian youngsters are not only more adept Internet users than other European children, but are also most at risk of exposure to online bullying and negative content.  Those were among the conclusions of a recent study financed by the European Commission’s Safer Internet Program.

The vast majority of Norwegian youth have mobile phones and hand-held computer devices. PHOTO: Telenor

The EU research project, called Eukids Online, involved interviews with 25,000 children between the ages of nine and 16 as well as their parents, reports newspaper Aftenposten. The study focused on the user habits of children while online and placed particular emphasis on risk behavior.

Findings published Wednesday are mixed, and although Norwegian youths top the chart in Internet proficiency, the downside is that online bullying is more common in Norway, and a higher percentage are exposed to age-inappropriate web content such as pornography, pro-anorexia and racist websites. Norwegian children are also more prone to excessive use, and have difficulties switching off the computer.

The telling numbers are likely a result of Norwegian children having more access to Internet than their peers overseas. Almost a third have access to hand-held, wireless technology and more than two-thirds have a registered profile on a social networking site. Norwegian schools maintain a strong focus on online behavior, with 97 per cent of children in Norway reporting that teachers are actively involved in their internet use.

For the most part, the statistics show a positive development in the online user habits of Norwegian children. “Exploring the internet doesn’t cause any sort of physical or psychological damage,” Elisabeth Staksrud of the Department of Media and Communication at the University of Oslo told Aftenposten. “Rather, children are likely to gain skill, confidence and a sense of accomplishment in difficult situations.”

Staksrud oversees the research project in Norway and writes in her own commentary for Aftenposten that parents and other involved adults are responsible for the development of conscientious online habits and must lead by example. While she says risk factors are plentiful, she likens curious youths exploring the net with previous generations sneaking into R-rated movies, and considers online bullying to be the most pressing issue.

In the midst of a recent debate in Norwegian media concerning bloggers and online harassment, Staksrud points out that “while clarification of the rules and legal framework seems to act as a disciplinary measure, it will not be enough to convince youth in the midst of online debates spoiled by harassment, from and between adult users.”

The rise of social media has raised a wealth of new considerations, also in the realm of parenting. As children become online users they become not only potential victims of destructive and negative content, but also potential creators. For this reason it is imperative that they receive proper guidance in how to safely and responsibly navigate the World Wide Web, according to the study.

Views and News from Norway/Liv Buli
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