Children’s online behaviour: issues of risk and trust

23 September 2014

Research conducted by Sherbert Research for Ofcom examined how children think about and deal with issues of risk and trust online.

Ofcom has a statutory duty to promote media literacy, including among children. Ofcom conducts regular research on how children use communications services. To date, there has been little in-depth research on how children navigate the internet in relation to issues of risk and trust. This research furthers understanding in this important area.

The research addresses the following questions relating to children’s online behaviour:

  • Do children understand the issues and risks around their own personal data and wider activity online? What, if any, strategies do they employ to manage these issues and risks?
  • How do children decide which external information sources to trust online, and what authentication approaches do they use?

The study, conducted in February and March 2014, focused on a cross-section of children and young people aged 8 to 17 across the UK. A triangulation-based research approach was used, consisting of groups of three friends (termed ‘friendship triads’ in this research), one-to-one ‘accompanied surfs’ and filmed, unmoderated sessions. In total, 54 individual respondents took part in 36 research sessions.

Media literacy empowers people with the skills, knowledge and understanding necessary to make full use of the opportunities presented by both traditional and new communications services. It also enables individuals to manage content and communications and protect themselves from the potential risks associated with using these services.

The evolution of digital technology has led to fundamental changes in the way that children and young people behave online. With unprecedented access to news, information and other media in the online world, children and young people are required to play a more active role in filtering to identify suitable and age-appropriate content.

Therefore, Ofcom commissioned this qualitative research in order to gain understanding of how children understand and deal with issues of risk and trust online.

Children’s online behaviour: issues of risk and trust (PDF, 1.0 MB)