Survey of 5,400 kids reveals 25% of Grade 4 students have their own cellphone

TORONTO – A survey of more than 5,400 Canadian kids in grades 4 through 11 found a majority had their own cellphone, while nearly one in four of the youngest children owned a mobile device.

The non-profit organization MediaSmarts worked with schools and parents in each province and territory to conduct the wide-ranging survey, which asked kids a few dozen questions about their Internet usage.

It wasn’t surprising that nearly 90 per cent of the oldest students said they had their own cellphone, said MediaSmarts director of education Matthew Johnson.

But it was eye-opening for him to learn that about a quarter of nine- and 10-year-old students had their own device.

“The numbers were definitely higher than we expected at the younger end,” said Johnson. “The surprise is definitely in those early three grades (four through six) and the fact that in Grade 6 we’re up to almost 40 per cent.

“Certainly it highlights the fact that we’re seeing earlier and more Internet access (for kids).”

Almost all of the 5,436 students polled said they had access to the Internet outside of school. Six per cent of the kids didn’t have Internet access at home but went online at local libraries and community centres.

When asked what they commonly did online, 59 per cent said they played games, 52 per cent said they read social media posts and 51 per cent said they downloaded or streamed music, TV shows and movies.

When asked about their favourite websites, YouTube was the clear winner among the more than 3,000 mentioned, chosen by 75 per cent of the students. Facebook was second, followed by Google, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Minecraft, Miniclip, Hotmail and Wikipedia.

Although Facebook’s rules state that users must be at least 13 years old to use the site, a third of the underage students in grades four through six said they had an account anyway, and 16 per cent of those kids were signed up for Twitter.

Among the older kids, 82 per cent had Facebook accounts and 47 per cent were on Twitter.

Johnson said one of the most surprising findings in the survey was how boys and girls viewed Internet safety differently.

“Girls are much more likely to agree with the statement that ‘the Internet is a dangerous place’ for them and in general, experience the Internet and the online world as a much more hostile and worrying place than boys do,” he said.

About 82 per cent of the girls and 63 per cent of the boys surveyed agreed when asked if they thought they could be hurt by online strangers, while 51 per cent of the girls and 61 per cent of the boys said they considered the Internet a safe place for them.

Meanwhile, about 90 per cent of both boys and girls agreed with the statement “I know how to protect myself online.” Even the youngest kids in Grade 4 expressed confidence with that statement, with 77 per cent agreeing with it.

Johnson was also taken aback by the number of parents who had lax rules about going online compared to the results of a similar survey conducted in 2005.

“Parents were (previously) treating the Internet or viewing the Internet much more as a source of fear and concern … and young people were feeling they were constantly being supervised, that their parents were watching over them to an excessive extent,” Johnson said of the findings from the previous research.

About 84 per cent of the kids surveyed did say their parents had at least one rule regarding their online behaviour. Some were told not to post personal information online, talk to strangers, visit certain websites, download content, or disrespect others.

But while 70 per cent of the kids surveyed in 2005 had to follow rules about which sites they visited, only 48 per cent of the students polled in 2013 said they were blocked from some sites.

And while almost three quarters of the kids polled in 2005 had been told about the limits of meeting people they talked to online, only 44 per cent of the kids questioned last year said their parents had set rules for them.

“We were really surprised to see that the number of rules about use of the Internet has actually declined by quite a lot and that’s something we’re not really sure about the cause of,” Johnson said.

When asked if they’re with an adult while using the Internet, 80 per cent said either rarely or never. Among the Grade 4 kids, 30 per cent said usually, 45 per cent said rarely and 20 per cent said never.

“The fact that one in five of the youngest students in this study are saying they’re never supervised by an adult … is definitely worrying,” Johnson said.