Children and young people in primary and secondary education (both regular and special) have for years been completing an online questionnaire to gauge their screen use. The results were recently published in the 'Apestaartjaren' survey. his study on screen and media use and media literacy among children and young people in Flanders was held for the 9th time.
A total of 5,588 children and young people between the ages of 6 and 18 completed the questionnaire. They were asked questions about which devices they use. How do they behave in the online world? What they can already do well and what they still find difficult?
1 in 3 children and a little over a quarter of young people do not think they have a good internet connection at home
Laptop gaining in popularity
A considerable number of children (9%) and young people (18%) have more than 4 hours of screen time on school days. This amount of time increases on days off for all ages. The increase in smartphone use among young people is particularly striking: on free days, 96% use their smartphone for more than an hour, and 45% for even more than 4 hours.
Children and young people appear to use mainly use their laptops on weekdays. The figures also show that the laptop has gained popularity among young people due to home education during the coronavirus crisis. Ninety percent of the young people and children surveyed often use their laptops. In 2020, this was 'only' 75 percent.
A good internet connection is not self-evident
It also turns out that most young people are quite satisfied with their Internet connection at home. Sixty-nine percent of children and seventy-three percent of young people have (mostly) good Internet at home. This seems positive, but it also means that 1 in 3 children and a little over a quarter of young people still do not think they have a good Internet connection at home. This is unfortunate when it comes to gaming or their use of social media, but it is potentially a big problem when they have to do homework, prepare lessons, etc.
Besides a good internet connection, a laptop appears to be essential for such tasks. Seventy-four percent of those questioned use it more intensively on school days than on days off. The laptop seems to be the essential device to carry out school tasks, while the mobile phone and tablet are mainly used during free time.
Technical and operational skills
We also asked about the basic technical and operational skills of children and young people. Seventy-two percent of children and eighty-nine percent of young people say they know how to protect access to their device. That is an excellent figure. With location settings - yet another important aspect of privacy - children in particular have a more difficult time. About half do not know how they can turn it off, while seventy-nine percent among young people do.
Only 4 in 10 children know how to adjust their privacy settings on their devices, compared with three quarters of young people who do. So they do develop the necessary skills to protect themselves over the years. But that also makes the children vulnerable to all kinds of invasions of their privacy and safety online.
Although children and young people are digitally confident, seventy percent of them report that they sometimes or often experience (practical) problems when using their devices. These problems do not diminish as they grow older and develop more problem-solving ICT skills. The biggest culprits are not the skills but the quality of the Internet and the devices.
And that in turn brings other challenges. Forty percent of children and forty-five percent of young people cannot do their homework, over thirty percent say they cannot keep up with lessons and just over a quarter say they cannot prepare well for an exam. This is, of course, a tragedy for the young people concerned and has a clear and direct impact on their school results.
Action still needed
It is partly for this reason that DNS Belgium, together with the Centre for Cybersecurity Belgium, Mediawijs, imec, VRT and RTBF have put an edubox together to help young people develop the necessary skills to use the internet safely.
And although the figures are fairly reassuring all in all, this research strengthens us in our conviction that we must continue to focus on developing the necessary digital skills, that we must continue to make young people (and all other population groups) aware of their online safety. We must moreover continue to collect, restore and distribute laptops through initiatives such as Digital For Youth and promote digital inclusion.
As long as not everyone can participate in our digital society, action is still needed.