Australian and New Zealand Communication Association
Faculty of Education and Arts
School of Communication and Arts/Centre for Research in Entertainment, Arts, Technology, Education and Communications
Internet participation, by young children (0-8) is increasing world-wide. Tweens (9-12 year olds) usage patterns now resemble of those of teenagers 5 to 6 years ago, and younger schoolaged children’s usage is increasing to the equivalent of tweens. Pre-schoolers are also going online at ever-increasing rates. This paper reports on evidence assembled in an international network of Internet researchers about young children under 9 and their increasing engagement with the Internet. The increase in children’s (0-8) Internet participation indicates certain trends and usage patterns that warrant further attention by researchers, educators and policy makers. Primary school aged children under the age of 9 are visiting ‘virtual worlds’—Web sites such as Minecraft, Club Penguin and Webkinz—that have components of social networking (Bauman & Tantum, 2009; Gee 2013; Tuukkanen et al, 2012), as well as joining 13+ social network sites such as Facebook (.Young Children, 2012). These under-agers are, as a result of youth and inexperience, less likely to have the digital skills needed to negotiate these sites safely (Livingstone et al, 2011). The increasing popularity of touch screen devices (iPads, smartphones) with pre-schoolers is also contributing to the increase in young children accessing the Internet (Brouwer et al, 2011; Verenikina et al, 2001), yet contemporary paediatric advice is to heavily restrict screen time for young children (eg. Sigman, 2012). It is unclear whether such advice accounts for the opportunities inherent in interactive play technologies. To date, little is known about the benefits and opportunities, or the risks and challenges, of children’s internet use in the 0-8 year old age group. Most research has concentrated on older children, partly because the primary concern to date has been around teenagers and partly because there are many more methodological, cost and ethical issues associated with researching younger children. From what we do know about younger children’s increased internet activity, however, it is becomming apparent that more research is needed.