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Children in Switzerland are using mobile phones to go online

In no other country in Europe do more children surf the Web using their mobile phones than in Switzerland.

As a study by the University of Zurich shows, children in Switzerland are adept at handling social media – they don’t surf the Net extensively and only four per cent have set their social network profile to «public».

Nevertheless there are still areas of risk: 35 per cent of the children have seen sexual images on the internet. 24 per cent have had contact with someone online who they only know from the internet. And 30 per cent have already neglected family, friends or homework at least once because of the internet.

On average, children in Switzerland are 9 years old when they use the internet for the first time. They spend on average 64 minutes per day online, which is substantially less than the European average (88 minutes). These are the results of a new study carried out by the Institut für Publizistikwissenschaft und Medienforschung (Institute of Mass Communication and Media Research) at the University of Zurich. The survey was conducted in the German-speaking and western part of Switzerland with 1,000 children and young people as well as one of their parents in each case.

Internet mainly used at home

97 per cent of Swiss children between the ages of 9 and 16 go online at home (EU average: 87 per cent). A noticeably large percentage of children have access to the internet via a handheld device (49 per cent). This is considerably less common across the rest of Europe (12 per cent on average). The percentage using their mobile phones to access the internet is also significantly higher (43 per cent) than in the rest of Europe (31 per cent on average), although this figure is surpassed by Greece (66 per cent). According to the study, children in Switzerland do not surf the Net extensively. However, 30 per cent state that they have spent time online instead of with family and friends or instead of doing their homework.

In Switzerland, children mostly use the internet to watch videos (85 per cent), to do something for school (78 per cent), to use e-mail (65 per cent) or to read or watch the news (61 per cent). Only 31 per cent of children in Switzerland use instant messaging, which is much less than their European counterparts (62 per cent). Nearly every-second Swiss child between the ages of 9 and 16 has his or her own social network profile. The European average is substantially higher (59 per cent). Looking just at the group of 15 to 16-year olds, 85 per cent have their own social network profile. One major difference from the European average is that only 4 per cent of children in Switzerland have set their profile to «public», meaning that everyone can see it. This figure is 26 per cent on average for the rest of Europe.

The older the child, the better the skills

The children’s skills on the internet improve as they get older. Younger children in particular are still lacking in these skills. 73 per cent of the 11 to 12-year olds surveyed were not able to block spam mails or unsolicited advertising, 67 per cent did not know how to change their privacy settings on their social network page and 63 per cent were unable to stop receiving unwanted messages from other users.

35 per cent of the Swiss children surveyed had seen sexual images in the past year, which is substantially higher than the European average (23 per cent). 20 per cent had seen these images online (EU average: 14 per cent). However, 67 per cent of those surveyed said that they did not feel bothered or upset by the images. The parents often were not aware that their child had already seen such images. 8 per cent of the children had met someone in real life who they previously only knew online (EU average: 9 per cent).

Support from parents and teachers

71 per cent of the Swiss children surveyed discuss their internet use with their parents (EU average: 70 per cent). If the parents give their children safety instructions, they explain to them why websites are good or bad (89 per cent), help their children to search for information (85 per cent) and tell them how to behave toward other people online (76 per cent). The children also get support in school for dealing with the internet: 79 per cent stated that their teachers had already helped them at least once and only 13 per cent had not received any help from teachers to date.

Links to the EU Kids Online project (International)
Countries/NationalWebPages/Switzerland.aspx (Switzerland)

Methodology and responsibility
Thanks to support from the SNSF (Swiss National Science Foundation) and the FSIO (Federal Social Insurance Office), Switzerland is for the first time a partner in the international project EU Kids Online III, which investigates the internet use of children and young people between the ages of 9 and 16.

33 European countries are taking part in this project, which allows an extensive comparative overview of online use as well as its risks at a European level. The survey of the other countries participating in the EU Kids Online project was already carried out two years ago.

The survey was coordinated by lic. phil. Martin Hermida, and the survey itself was implemented by the market and social research institute GfS (Swiss association for practical social research, Prof. Dr. Heinz Bonfadelli is responsible for managing the SNSF project. Dr. des. Sara Signer works as a key contact for Switzerland as an interface to the EU project.

IPMZ – Institute of Mass Communication and Media Research at the University of Zurich

Journalism and communications science is taught at the IPMZ as a social science with interdisciplinary features. It focuses on social communication that is created through the press, radio, television, internet, mobile communication, etc. – in particular (but not only) public communication. The research asks questions about the conditions, forms and consequences of this communication. This involves describing and explaining how modern society as a media and information society is shaped by communication transmitted by media.

Nathalie Huber | Universität Zürich
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