Challenges for young people in internet searches — and how to overcome them

The internet is a public, chaotic space used by billions of people with a wide range of life experiences, personal intentions and opinions. One of the most important features of the internet is that it does not belong to any country, organisation or person. All users can freely create, share, find and edit information.

Children and young people are also part of this ever-growing virtual space, already at primary school age and certainly some earlier. For them, growing up and learning without the internet is unimaginable. They use it in their free time to watch videos (93%*), play games, chat with friends (84%*), listen to music or stream videos (66%*) and for social media (51%*). For schoolwork they use it to research (88%*) and exchange information with classmates and teachers.

*Values as reference value of the study “Cyberlife III” von T K & Bündnis gegen Cybermobbing, 2020

A look at the numbers:

94 percent of 10–15 year olds use the internet every day or almost every day. (Statistisches Bundesamt, 2020)

64 percent of 8-year-olds already have their own PC/laptop, tablet or smartphone. (T K & Bündnis gegen Cybermobbing, 2020)

83 percent of 10–18 year olds use their smartphone to surf the internet. (Bitcom Studie, 2019)

66 percent of 10–18 year olds have been able to expand their knowledge thanks to the internet. (Bitcom Studie, 2019)

2hours a day on average are children and young people between the ages of 9 and 17 online. Older adolescents between 15 and 17 already spend 3.4 hours online. (T K & Bündnis gegen Cybermobbing, 2020)

However, as a largely unprotected space, the internet also harbours some risks for young people. Therefore, it is essential to understand the internet as a safe companion at an early age and to protect oneself well — through media skills. However, these are manifold and difficult to delineate. They range from technical skills such as research and information evaluation, social participation and expressing one’s own identity, to dealing with cyber bullying and data theft.

A look at the numbers:

25 percent of parents stated that their children have already had experiences with cyberbullying. (T K & Bündnis gegen Cybermobbing, 2020)

41 percent of children and young people have had negative experiences on the internet, e.g. disturbing content, insults, cyberbullying or spreading lies. (Bitcom Studie, 2019)

In this article we look at finding, understanding, evaluating and using information from an internet search.

Internet searches

A internet search journey for pupils of a 6th grade is not trivial and harmless. As they research for a biology lecture and collect information together online, they are already making important decisions that will affect them beyond the digital world.

Apps are installed quickly and uncontrolled with the parents’ administrator account on the computer. The internet browser is used with the default settings without ever having checked and adjusted the security and privacy settings. Virus scanners and firewalls are fortunately activated by default nowadays. At second glance, viruses or Trojans can already monitor or access data, passwords and surfing behaviour unnoticed and send them to third parties.

#Tip 1: Parents should set up all devices carefully, deactivate critical functions such as administrator rights and install all updates.

Perhaps like about 90% of Germans, students use a popular and often unquestioned American search service. The search results on the first page usually seem quite sufficient. After all, the higher a website is ranked, the better it has to be. However, the order of the search results is often less qualitative, but determined by one’s own surfing behaviour and the marketing budgets of the website operators. Searchers are subconsciously subject to the search engine bias (meaning: search engines are not neutral and objective, but prefer some sites over others). As a result, students find themselves in a filter bubble early on, are influenced by advertising and limit themselves in their search.

#Tip 2: Together with parents, consciously choose a search engine, compare results from different search engines, search in incognito mode and sometimes look at search results on page three or four.

Digital footprints are created when browsing pages and casually checking chats or social media. These reveal a lot about surfing behaviour and offer conclusions about demographics and even personality. What seems cool because it costs nothing is in many cases an elaborate business model that collects, evaluates and possibly sells data. This is nothing bad per se, but should be considered by young people while they are surfing.

#Tip 3: Install AdBlockers, do not allow all cookies or open the cookie banner settings, talk to children about the business models of Facebook, Google & Co.

When collecting content for school projects, wikis, social media and YouTube are the first places to go. It is most important that information is appears simply and clearly. It often remains hidden who is the editor or author of the content and website. This is because everyone has different interests and their own opinions, which subconsciously shape the minds of young people and adults alike. In addition, content, especially on social media, becomes shorter, providing less context and more room for interpretation.

#Tip 4: Check authors, publishers, actuality, domain and imprint when collecting important information. Report misinformation on the website and inappropriate or frightening content to parents or teachers immediately.

The original German article was posted in cooperation with Edusiia and as part of the educational initiative Mosaic Lernparcour, which helps kids 8–13 years to safely navigate through the digital world. We’re offering physical learning parcours to playfully develop digital literacy skills, incorporating role plays, obstacle runs and riddles about internet searches.

Creative Technologist at Taikonauten in Berlin. Passionate about preparing children for the digital world while playing outside.

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