Canada’s Wired Kids: Connected, Active and Younger Than Ever

Young Canadians are more connected than ever and at a surprisingly early age, seeking new ways to optimize the Internet’s social and educational opportunities, according to new research released today by Media Awareness Network (MNet).

The Young Canadians in a Wired World (YCWW) national research project reveals that 94 percent of young people access the Internet from home, with students as early as Grade 4 beginning to rely on the Internet to stay connected to friends and explore social roles. Some of the findings include:

20 percent of Grade 4 students access the Internet through their own personal computer
43 percent of Grade 5 students and 86 percent of Grade 11 students use instant messaging daily
28 percent of students download TV shows and movies from the Internet
31 percent of Grade 11 students have a Webcam for personal use
The most comprehensive and wide-ranging survey of its kind in Canada, YCWW looks at the online behaviours, attitudes, and opinions of more than 5,200 children and youth from grades 4 to 11, in every province and territory across the country. Conducted by ERIN Research for Media Awareness Network, and funded by the Government of Canada, the survey confirms that hazards still exist for young people online, but also points to the positive impacts of increasing parental involvement.

The research reinforces a need for society to broaden its focus from Internet risks to a deeper understanding of the actions and interests of young Canadians online, says Cathy Wing, YCWW program coordinator.

The Internet isnt another world; its an extension of kids lives,Wing told a news conference at Centennial Public School in Ottawa today. These findings make it very clear that the Net has become an integral part of young Canadians’ social environment and a new forum for what are often normal developmental behaviours.”

Key YCWW findings show that Canadian youth are active users of communications technologies. Among the most connected in the world, and no longer limited to landlocked PCs, they are engaging one other across increasingly blurred lines separating networked and real-world spaces.

Of note, particularly among girls, is the common practice of posting pictures and profiles online. More youth are creating personal Web pages and blogs, and participating on social networking sites. And the resulting mediascape provides them with multiple opportunities to communicate – and to express and entertain themselves – as they move between real-world and virtual spaces.

This research raises a number of issues that demand societys attention and, perhaps more importantly, our greater focus as parents and teachers on providing positive Internet education for youth,” said Michelle Scarborough, MNes executive director. “Through our broad educational programs and resources, MNet is committed to that effort. If we are going to provide the support young people need, its critical to understand and assist them in the ways in which they use the Internet to explore their world and social roles.

“This fall, MNet will be providing its popular Parenting the Net Generation workshops in cities across the country, offering parents a resource to address family interests and concerns on issues that arise when young people go online.”

In fact, the majority of children view online social interactions as positive experiences. But Wing warned changing the way society views kids’ Internet behaviour doesn’t mean abandoning precaution. YCWW research reveals that mainstream Web sites often expose young people to inappropriate content and risky situations. For some, the Internet is a vehicle for bullying and sexual harassment. And, while they are aware of privacy issues, youth are sharing personal information in online spaces that, increasingly, are commercialized environments.

These are natural challenges kids face with increased online access, Wing said. But were finding that Internet rules do make a difference. Parental involvement has increased over the past four years. And by turning our focus toward education we will provide youth with the tools they need to wisely navigate their online environment.