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UK teenagers among world's most extreme internet users: expert

Xinhua | Updated: 2018-04-23 20:31

LONDON - A British education policy expert told Xinhua that UK teenagers are among the world's most extreme internet users, calling on social media companies, schools and governments in the country to take their responsibilities to ensure online safety for youngsters.

Natalie Perera, executive director and head of research at the London-based Education Policy Institute, said in a recent interview with Xinhua that British young people are spending longer amounts of time on internet and nearly a third of British 15 year olds said they first began to use the internet at the age of six or younger.

Perera joined the Education Policy Institute in 2015 after having worked in the British Department for Education from 2002 to 2014.

The Education Policy Institute aims to "promote high quality education outcomes for all children and young people, regardless of social backgrounds" through an "impartial and evidence-based approach."

EXTREME INTERNET USERS

"Students in the UK are among the highest users of the internet in developed countries," Perera said. "Almost a third of 15 year olds are using the internet for six hours or longer, and that is a lot higher than the OECD (the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) average," she said.

The only OECD country with higher levels of extreme internet use than Britain is Chile, she noted.

Extreme internet users are defined by the OECD as a student who uses the internet for more than six hours outside of school on a typical weekend day.

These young people use Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to watch movies, play games, chat or share information.

In Britain, 37.3 percent of 15 year olds are extreme internet users, substantially higher than the OECD average, reports said.

Currently, young people have easier access to internet as a result of scientific and technological advancement, she noted. "Increasingly, we know that about 95 percent of young people in the UK are using the internet, in particularly social media, either before or after school."

"They are using it for longer hours per day, they are using it on their mobile phone and I suppose on a computer at home or at a library," she said. "The internet now is much more accessible for young people; they have it at their fingertips."

"They use it before and after school. And in this country particular, for a long length of time," she said.

PROS AND CONS

"There are some benefits from using the internet, we shouldn't lose sight of that," Perera said.

For example, young people use the internet to seek online help like counselling, or to create networks among their friends groups to talk about issues they might not want to talk about in real life, she said.

"But some of the risks associated with the internet and social media, in particular, are things like online bullying. There is a fairly strong link now between the usage of the internet and young people's mental health," she noted. "And international evidence also finds there is a reduced life satisfaction the more young people use the internet."

"Online bullying is a relatively new problem, it is not anything that parents have dealt with when they were children, for example," she said.

"It could be anonymous bullying, or it could be young people who know each other from school," she said. "Nothing happened at school, but at the end of the day, they might get involved in name calling over things like WhatsApp, or Snapchat."

"I think schools and parents, and indeed the government views social media as having lots of positive benefits, but also lots of risks to young people's well-being," she said. "And I think the parents could genuinely benefit from more advice and guidance either from schools or from the government about how to protect their children online."

Perera said such advice could be something like "how to make sure they can't access inappropriate websites, and what they should all be looking out for if there is a risk that their child is being bullied online, for example."

RESPONSIBILITY OF ALL PARTIES

Perera said their research found that nearly a third of internet users in Britain started using it at the age of six, or even younger.

"So they are using the internet from an early age, and carry that on," she said.

Reports said that on average, children in the UK first used the internet at the age of eight, which was half a year earlier than the European Union (EU) average. But nine to 10 year olds on average first used the internet at the age of six compared to age nine for 15 to 16 year olds.

"I think the social media companies have the opportunity to be a bit more responsible when it comes to young people," she said. "Making sure their websites are age appropriate, but also, if they have young people on their social media site that aren't allowed, they need to take more responsibility in banning those young people and making sure they can't register or use the site."

"I think the government has a role again to make sure children are safe online by working with the internet providers, and social media companies," she said. "But also in making sure that schools and parents have the support they need to support young people to use the internet safely."

"And when a problem like bullying occurs, schools and parents can identify that problem and provide the support that the young person needs," she added.

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