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1345.4 - SA Stats, July 2010  
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FEATURE ARTICLE: CHILDREN'S USE OF THE INTERNET AND MOBILE PHONES IN SOUTH AUSTRALIA


INTRODUCTION

Modern life is increasingly reliant on electronic communication. The use of the internet and mobile equipment for more than communication has also become crucial to many peoples lives. As a result, children are now growing up in a world where internet and mobile phone use is both normal and expected. The use of the internet and mobile phones by children creates many positive experiences but it also exposes them to considerable personal safety and security risks.

This article uses data from Household Use of Information Technology, Australia, 2008-09 (cat. no. 8146.0) and Children's Participation in Culture and Leisure Activities, Australia, April 2009 (cat. no. 4901.0), to explore children's use of the internet and mobile phones (aged 5-14 years) in South Australia.


Internet Access at Home

The internet is a valuable resource providing a world of information, products and services easily accessible online. Increasing the proportion of households with internet access would allow more of the population to partake in the benefits associated with internet connection.

In comparison to all other states and territories, South Australia reported the second lowest proportion of households with broadband connection in 2008-09 with 54% (348,000 households) of all households reporting having broadband connection. In the four years from 2005-06 to 2008-09, household broadband access in South Australia has increased from 20% (128,000) to 54%. Although this was a significant increase in South Australia it still falls well below the national average of 62% in 2008-09.

The South Australian State Government has recognised a need to lift broadband usage in the state by including a target in the South Australian Strategic Plan 2007 (Target 4.8) for broadband usage in South Australia to exceed the national average by 2010, and be maintained thereafter. South Australia has one of the oldest population profiles nationally, with evidence Australians aged 65 and over are less likely to be connected to the internet than all other age groups (Australia in the Digital Economy: Report 2 - Online Participation).

HOUSEHOLDS WITH BROADBAND INTERNET ACCESS
Graph: HOUSEHOLDS WITH BROADBAND INTERNET ACCESS


From 1998 to 2008-09, the proportion of South Australian households with computer access has steadily increased from 41% to 75% (246,000 to 484,000 households respectively). Over the same period household internet access has increased more than five-fold from 12% to 66% (75,000 to 432,000).

From 1998 to 2008-09 there has been an increasing correlation between households with a computer and the increase of households accessing the internet. In 2008-09, 89% of households with a computer also had internet access, while in 1998 only 31% of households with a computer also had access to the internet.

HOUSEHOLD COMPUTER OR INTERNET ACCESS, South Australia
Graph: HOUSEHOLD COMPUTER OR INTERNET ACCESS, South Australia


Over the last five years there has been significant developments and improvements to internet connection speeds available. Since the introduction of the high speed broadband connection, the proportion of households with dial-up access has declined. From 2004-05 to 2008-09, the proportion of households in South Australia with dial-up access decreased from 39% to 12%, while broadband access increased from 10% to 54%. Of all South Australian households in 2008-09 with an internet connection, 81% (348,000) were connected via a broadband connection.

HOUSEHOLDS IN SOUTH AUSTRALIA, by type of internet connection
Graph: HOUSEHOLDS IN SOUTH AUSTRALIA, by type of internet connection



Children's use of the Internet

In April 2009, there were 193,000 children in South Australia aged 5-14 years. Of these, 79% had access to the internet in the 12 months prior to April 2009 (152,000). Of the children who had access to the internet, 69% had access to the internet at home and 71% had access to the internet at school.

CHILDREN'S USE OF THE INTERNET(a), Location of internet access (b) - South Australia - April 2009
Graph: CHILDREN'S USE OF THE INTERNET(a), Location of internet access (b)—South Australia - April 2009


Of the approximately 133,000 children that accessed the internet at home in the 12 months to April 2009, 42% accessed the internet for 2 hours or less per week and about 18% accessed the internet for more than 10 hours each week. Children who accessed the internet at home comprised 53% of the 5-8 years cohort, 74% of the 9-11 years cohort, and 84% of the 12-14 years cohort.

CHILDREN'S USE OF THE INTERNET(a), Usual weekly hours of internet use at home - South Australia - April 2009
Graph: CHILDREN'S USE OF THE INTERNET(a), Usual weekly hours of internet use at home—South Australia - April 2009


In the 12 months to April 2009 the most predominant use of the internet at home by children was for educational activities (87%), playing online games (67%) and general web browsing (61%). Thirty three percent of children who accessed the internet at home reported using the internet for chatrooms, forums or instant messaging, and also using the internet for emailing. Of the 45,000 children aged 5 to 14 years who used the internet for chatrooms, forums or instant messaging, 71% were aged 12-14 years, with more girls engaged in these activities than boys (55% and 45% respectively).

Children's use of the internet(a), Type of internet activities usually done at home - South Australia, April 2009

Proportion of time
Activity
%

Educational activities
87
Playing online games
67
General Internet surfing or web browsing
61
Listening to or downloading music
44
Chat rooms, forums or instant messaging
33
Emailing
33
Watching or downloading AV content
28
Visiting news, sports or weather sites
27
Visiting or using social networking websites
23
Creating own online content
12
Using auction sites or Internet shopping
9
Making phone calls online
8
Other activities
5

(a) Children aged 5-14 years
Source: Household Use of Information Technology, Australia, 2008-09 (cat. no.8146.0)



Children's Use of Mobile Phones

In April 2009, 31% (60,000) of South Australian children aged 5-14 years owned a mobile phone, the same as the national proportion. Two thirds (66%) of children in South Australia with a mobile phone primarily used their mobile phone to contact family, whilst most of the remaining child population use their mobile phone mainly to contact friends.

CHILDREN'S USE OF MOBILE PHONES(a), Mobile used more to contact family or friends - South Australia, April 2009
Graph: CHILDREN'S USE OF MOBILE PHONES(a), Mobile used more to contact family or friends—South Australia, April 2009



Protection of Children Using the Internet and Mobile Phones

The internet offers an exciting world of experiences for children. It can be entertaining, educational and rewarding. However, using the internet involves risks and challenges with children potentially exposed to content that is sexually explicit, violent, prohibited or even illegal. Other risks include contact with strangers or cyber bullying. Similarly, mobile phone ownership by children has taken schoolyard bullying to new levels, with victims potentially exposed to persistent taunts and abuse. Parents are therefore encouraged to take an active role in talking with their children about the risks associated with the internet (Stay Smart Online) and mobile phone use.

In April 2009, nearly all South Australian households had taken some precautions to protect children from inappropriate actions on the internet. Supervision or monitoring a child's use of the internet was the most common action taken for child safety or security at home (93%), followed by educating the child about safe and appropriate use of the internet (86%), and placing the computer in a public area of the house (80%).

CHILDREN'S USE OF THE INTERNET(a), Actions taken for personal safety or security in internet use at home - South Australia, April 2009
Graph: CHILDREN'S USE OF THE INTERNET(a), Actions taken for personal safety or security in internet use at home—South Australia, April 2009


Similarly, most South Australian families (90%) took some action for the personal safety of the child user of mobile phones. The most common method is to educate their child about the safe and appropriate use of the mobile phone (85%), while about half (49%) monitor their child's mobile phone activity. Only 2% of parents reported that their child had a personal safety or security problem with their mobile phone.

CHILDREN'S USE OF MOBILE PHONES(a), Actions taken for personal safety or security in mobile phone use - South Australia - April 2009
Graph: CHILDREN'S USE OF MOBILE PHONES(a), Actions taken for personal safety or security in mobile phone use—South Australia - April 2009


Both the Australian Government (Stay Smart Online) and the South Australian Government (Information Economy) recognise online safety and security are issues for the community and provide useful information on their respective web sites. Advice includes how to secure your computer online, cyber security awareness for school students, and resources for parents to help protect their children online.


Summary

Household access to computers and the internet in South Australia has steadily increased over the last decade. However, South Australia still has one of the lowest proportions of household broadband access of all states and territories. Seventy one percent of South Australian children had access to the internet at school, and 69% had access to the internet at home. For children who accessed the internet at home, 42% accessed the internet for 2 hours or less per week, and 18% accessed the internet more than 10 hours each week. Furthermore, the likelihood of children accessing the internet at home increased with age.

Children's use of the internet at home was predominantly for educational activities, playing games, general web browsing and communication (email and instant messaging). Of the children who used the internet for chatrooms, forums or instant messaging, nearly three quarters were aged 12-14 years, with more girls engaged in these activities than boys (55% and 45% respectively).

Thirty one percent of South Australian children aged 5-14 years owned a mobile phone in April 2009. Two thirds of children with a mobile phone mainly used it to contact family.

Households were generally aware of the risks associated with children using these technologies and at least 90% took precautions such as educating and supervising their child.

The South Australian and Australian governments provide valuable online resources to assist parents and children with their safety in using mobile phones and the internet.


References

ABS, Household Use of Information Technology, Australia, 2008-09 (cat. no. 8146.0)

ABS, Children's Particpation in Cultural and Leisure Activities, Australia, April 2009 (cat. no. 4901.0)

Australian Government, Stay Smart Online

Australian Government 2009, Australia in the Digital Economy: Report 2 - Online Participation

Government of South Australia, Information Economy

Government of South Australia 2007, South Australia's Strategic Plan


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