Children on the Net: State of the Art and Future Perspectives Regarding Danish Children’S Use of the Internet

ABSTRACT - The paper presents research on Danish children’s use of the Internet. Data from 2000 to 2002 shows that the level of Internet use is stabile but high compared to other European countries. Today, nearly all children have access to a computer at home. Games are the most popular activity to use the computer for (more boys than girls enjoy this activity) followed by Internet surfing. Girls seem to be more interested in searching for information in books and printed material than on the Internet. Approximately 40% are active on the Internet and the most popular activity is surfing for fun, sending e-mails, gathering information for schoolwork and visiting chat rooms.


Birgitte Tufte and Jeanette Rasmussen (2003) ,"Children on the Net: State of the Art and Future Perspectives Regarding Danish Children’S Use of the Internet", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, eds. Darach Turley and Stephen Brown, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 142-146.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, 2003      Pages 142-146


Birgitte Tufte, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark

Jeanette Rasmussen, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark


The paper presents research on Danish children’s use of the Internet. Data from 2000 to 2002 shows that the level of Internet use is stabile but high compared to other European countries. Today, nearly all children have access to a computer at home. Games are the most popular activity to use the computer for (more boys than girls enjoy this activity) followed by Internet surfing. Girls seem to be more interested in searching for information in books and printed material than on the Internet. Approximately 40% are active on the Internet and the most popular activity is surfing for fun, sending e-mails, gathering information for schoolwork and visiting chat rooms.


This paper will present findings related to Danish children’s use of the Internet. The focus will be on where they use the Internet, for what purpose, how much time they spend daily and gender differences. Furthermore, we will be focusing on the generation perspective. The background for the project is the fact that children increasingly seem to use the Internet for different purposes such as e-mails, chat, exploration, schoolwork as well as buying services and products.

The paper will present European and Danish findings. Although they are not obviously comparable, hopefully these findings will provide an outline of the state of art regarding research on children and the Internet. The Danish results are based on qualitative and quantitative data from 1998-2002 (Christensen & Tufte 2001; Drotner 2001; Hansen et al. 2002).


The Internet is a global high-speed network consisting of a set of network computers, which is simply a vast number of interlinked computer networks around the world. During the last decade, an explosion of the Internet has occurred all over the world. As a matter of fact, the Internet has been available since the early 1960s when it was developed for military purposes. However, it was not until the 1990s when a new generation of softwareBthe World Wide Web (WWW) browsersBwas developed that the Internet became widespread. The Internet offers an enormous amount of information, which according to the American researchers Victor C. Strasburger and Barbara J. Wilson (2002) could be described as follows:

* E-mail for electronic communication. Many would agree that this is certainly one of the most popular forms of communication in today’s society. Even this simple and everyday form of technology has changed in recent years, with the ability to send voice, video, and other forms of attachments around the world in an almost instantaneous manner.

* Bulletin board systems for posting of information on almost any topic one could imagine.

* Chat groups that can be used for real-time conversations. For many adolescents, it is the global equivalent of a "free" conference call. However, unlike the traditional conference call, you can choose your topic, person and time in any manner you desire.

* The World Wide Web, which combines visuals/sound/text together in a manner that allows linkages across many sites that are related to a particular topic. These topics obviously can be those related to sex, violence, drugs, or any other content for which we have concerns. (Strasburger & Wilson 2002)


The media play an important role in the daily life of children all over the world, although there are differences depending on where the children live. The Internet is the newest member of the global family of media technology. Compared to other media, the Internet is highly interactive. Unlike traditional media, the Internet allows children and adolescents access to different kinds of content. A specific characteristic is that this can be done in privacy, without the knowledge of the child’s parents. In the U.S., access to and use of the Internet is growing rapidly. A 1999 survey of teenagers’ use of the Internet reveals that 82% se the Internet, and that 62% confirmed that their parents know little or nothing about the websites they visit (Strasburger & Wilson 2002).

They also indicated that when making decisions the most influential sources of information are the media, which means that the children receive far more information from the media than from their parents and schools. This phenomenon has been called "the parallel school of media" and relates to the fact that children and adolescents spend several hours daily consuming media culture, through which they learn a lot of things that are not taught in school (Tufte 1995).

Not surprisingly, according to Sonia Livingstone, most research regarding children and the Internet has been carried out in North America: "Broadly speaking, North American researchBconstituting the majority of empirical studiesBis particularly strong on quantitative research, conducting rather few qualitative projects . By contrast, the smaller body of European research tends to be spread evenly across qualitative and quantitative approaches" (Livingstone 2003). In the following, we shall present some European findings.

In Germany, not much research on children’s use of the Internet has appeared so far. However, in 1998 a survey was carried out showing that less than 1% of all children aged 6-13 used the Internet. Another survey, carried out in 1997 with children and young people between the age of 12 and 17, showed that the largest section of child and adolescent users were aged 14-16. However, they did not use it frequentlyBonly half of the "on-liners" were regularly on the Internet. It was found that children mostly use the Internet for electronic messages (e-mails), listening to sound and video files, for chatting and playing on the Net. (Gehle 1999). Consequently, in conclusion of German children’s use of the Internet at that timeBin 1998 the following could be stated: " Online media such as the Internet harbour tremendous opportunities and can enrich children’s everyday media use. Does this mean serious competition for the classical media such as television, radio and video games? The role that the Internet plays now and will play in the future in the kids’ media programme is still the subject of considerable speculation in Germany." (Gehle 1999)

A French study (Bevort & BrTda 2001) showed that only 28% of young people use the Internet and that 30% of them have only used it once or twice. The study compared the use at home and in school. It turned out that at home the Internet is used for entertainment purposes, whereas in school it is mainly used for schoolwork. The report distinguished between two groups of users:

B Light users or those who do not use the Internet at all (mainly below the age of 15 yearsBand female)

B Heavy users between 15-17 yearsBand male. (Bevort & Breda 2001)

A recent comparative study including 12 European countries (Livingstone & Bovill 2001) showed that there are rather large differences between the countries of Europe. Countries such as Spain, Italy and France have a strong focus on national television and relatively low figures in new media technologies (including computer and Internet access). The second group is made up of Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and Israel, all of which provide a multi-channel environment, but use new technologies moderately. The United Kingdom is treated as a group on its own because it, contrary to the pattern observed elsewhere, combines a heavy orientation toward television with rather high figures for new technologies. The fourth group consists of the Nordic countries and the Netherlands, all of which are seen as pioneers in new media technologies. (Livingstone & Bovill 2001)

Since this paper focuses mainly on Danish children’s use of the Internet, we will present some recent Danish findings. A number of studies have shown that there is a great deal of media hardware in children’s rooms, which is also confirmed by the findings of the Danish researcher Kirsten Drotner, who was the Danish partner in the above mentioned comparative European study. Her survey covers 6-16 year-olds.

60% of Danish children have a TV in their room, and although they also use the computer, television is still the most used medium scoring 2 1/2 hour per day on average. They listen to music 87 minutes per day, play computer games for 59 minutes and spend 16 minutes on the Internet. Drotner provides some interesting perspectives on the relationship between access to and use of media. Regarding traditional media, there is a rather high level of accordance between for instance access to and use of TV (98% have access to TV and 99% use it). The same goes for CD, video and telephone, whereas the situation is different in relation to the Internet. 25% have access to the Internet at home, and 45% use it. This means that they also use it in other locations. (Drotner 2001). Similar trends can be observed from the five-year study regarding families’ use of the media, which was completed in 2002. It is a media ethnographic study, following 12 families (through observations, interviews). The study shows that a "normal" Danish family often has 3-4 TV-sets, 2-3 VCR’s, 2-3 computers etc. During the four-year period, new acquisitions were playstation, mobile phone, and an upgrade of the access to the Internet (Christensen & Tufte 2001). Families with children are to a greater extent than other families "early adaptors" of the Internet. Today (March 2003), 80% of Danish households with children have access to the Internet (Zinkernagel, 2003)

Gender differences

That there are gender differences in the use of media is well known to many people; this fact is emphasized by Drotner, who found that the gender difference in media use is striking and goes beyond age and social background. This is especially true for computer games as 9-16 year old boys spend 4 times as long on the games as the girls. The girls, on the other hand, use the computers for schoolwork more than the boys. Girls read more books than boys, and in relation to the Internet 52% of the boys and 49% of the girls use the Internet, i.e. almost equal percentages, but boys and girls use it for different purposes. The girls mostly use the Internet for surfing, chat and e-mail, whereas the boys use it for seeking information, production of websites and downloading of software. Similar trends can be observed in a survey made by the Swedish media researcher Cecilia von Feilitzen of 15-24 year-olds’ use of the Internet: "Both boys and girls were of the opinion that television was the most important medium for entertainment/pleasure. As to knowledge and information, the boys gave priority to the Internet in the first place and television in the second. The girls chose books first and television second." (Feilitzen 2002)

A generation gap?

As stated above, the children often have more confidence in learning through media than through school and their parents (Christensen & Tufte 2001). The American media researcher, Don Tapscott (1998), has called the new generation "The Net Generation". The term refers to the generation "who, in 1999, will be between the ages of two and twenty-one, not just those who are active on the Internet" (Tapscott 1998). Characteristic for their media use is that they are active and competent persons who make choicesBwhich make them attractive as consumers. This point of view may be true and is very much in accordance with theories about today’s competent child. Parents often list education as their main reason for buying a computer and having Internet access at home, and the different family members use it in different ways:

Interviewer: "Do you think that it is a generation problem in most families that they [children] can do so much (as to media)?"

Dad: "You should not look at it as a problem before it turns into one. I don’t use it for the same purpose as the children and I guess most adults use it today. By now, I think that there are only a few adults who cannot use it moderately"

Interviewer: "What we have come upon is the fact that adults are more occupied with all the things the children can do than what they can do themselves"

Dad: I am envious of them for the many things they can do faster than I can"

(Conversation with a dad who has three sons aged 8-16)

One of Tapscott’s points is also that the Net Generation is a media literate generation. Maybe this is not absolutely true. They are familiar with the technology, they are able to help the teachers in the classroom with the computer and the parents at home programming the video, but they are not media literate when it comes to analysing the different aspects of the new media landscape, and they do not know much about media history, media economy etc. It seems as though parents and teachers sometimes overestimate the children’s insight into the new media.

Grown-ups are impressed because the children are surfing and playing on the Internet, but they are often in need of guidance in relation to finding relevant information. What they get are often fragmented pieces of random information. The role of the grown-up, whether a teacher or a parent, is to guide and explain. So, on the technical side, we have a generation gap, where the Net generation is competent, but from a cultural and learning point of view, the grown-ups are the competent ones. Bridging the two gaps should be made a goal in relation to the Internet; an aspect that ought to be focused on in relation to media literacy in schools.




As demonstrated, the Internet is increasing in popularity. However, there are a few concerns related to its use that need to be addressed. One of the concerns is the lack of parent control. On the one hand, many parents are impressed by all the information the children can receive. On the other hand, they are worried about access to adult sites and violence on the Internet.

"I am not allowed to use my dad’s computer too much. They are afraid that I might chat with some sort of strange person. Even when I tell them that I don’t, they don’t believe me" (Interview with a 12 year-old girl)

Another concern is the commercialisation of the Internet. There are many child-oriented sites with advertisements, and it can often be difficult to distinguish between information and advertisements. The children’s websites are often blurred. As many studies have shown, the younger the children are, the more difficult it is for them to distinguish between information and advertising, and the more they are influenced.

As an example of a relevant study in relation to this, we can mention a Norwegian survey, which was conducted in 2000 in order to gain insight into 12-year-olds’ knowledge and understanding of different kinds of commercials on the Internet. The motivation for the project was that SIFO (The National Institute for Consumer Research in Norway) saw the Internet as a technology opening up for more marketingBalso to children. "Visual presentation, entertainment and information are examples of important factors in developing Internet commercials. Supposedly, such elements will make it more difficult, especially for children, to recognise the commercial message and the commercial sender" (Kjorstad 2000). The survey is a study of 12 year-old-children’s understanding of different forms of advertising on the Internet, based on qualitative interviews.

The result of the study showed that, generally, children have a positive attitude to commercial advertising on the Internet and think that they recognise most types of commercials that appear there. However, there are three types of Internet commercials that seem to be difficult for the children to recognise. These are sponsorships, newsletters and chat-commercials. Regarding chat-commercials, for instance, they do not think it is acceptable to interrupt what they consider to be a private conversation. "The children understand the purpose of this kind of marketing, but they will probably have problems recognising it because of the fact that it is exposed in a medium in which they do not expect to find commercials. Most children are very negative towards this kind of marketing" (Kj°rstad 2000).


The findings that are presented relate to the project "Danish Children as Consumers". The data is from Gallup Denmark/Taylor Nelson Sofres annual children/youth media index 2000-2002. The data collected consisted of 2830 interviews carried out among 5-18 year-olds in 2000, but in this paper we have chosen to focus only on the 8-12 year-olds.

In 2002, 94,5% of the 8-12 year-olds had a computer at home. To relate the use of the Internet to other forms of use, it is interesting to look at where and for what purpose the children use the computer. As Table 1 shows, the most popular place to use the computer for the 8-12 year-olds is at home. 91,4% used the computer at home in 2002. In school is the second most popular place to use the computer, with 70,1% in 2002. The third most popular place is with friends (43,6%), followed by the library (18,1%) and finally youth clubs (9,7%). It is interesting that the ranking of favourite location has not changed from 2000-2002. At home is still the most popular place to use the computer. It is also interesting that over the three-year period the percentages of 8-12 year-olds who use the computer in different locations have more or less remained at the same level.

The Internet is increasingly being used by the children in school. However, it seems that some of the children do not trust all the information they receive and thus prefer books. In this respect, as already mentioned, there is a gender difference; girls are more oriented towards books, whereas boys often prefer the Internet.

"...when we had to prepare a project, we were told that we shouldn’t trust the Internet 100%. We were also to contact people that knew something about it. I have found a lot of information, including some that was false. I really don’t trust the Internet. In my e-mail I get newsletters where I can win a trip or get a trip for a small amount of money BI don’t trust that. I feel like it is some kind of scam."

Interviewer: "Don’t you think it is problematic when you prepare projects to go on the Internet to get information?"

Girl: "It is, but I almost never do, only if I need some specific information. Otherwise I find some people and interview them or get books about it."

Interviewer: "Have you bought anything over the Internet?"

Girl: "No. I am too afraid".

(Interview with 12-year old girl)

In the following, we will present some more information about what the 8-12 year-olds use the computer for.



They primarily use the computer for games. 91,1% mentioned this in the survey. There is a majority of boy using the computer for games. In 2002, 92,8% of the boys used the computer for games, but only 89,3% of the girls. This gap of 3,5% between the boys and girls has been reduced over the last three years. In 2000, the gap was at 6,1% and in 2001 at 6,6%. This could imply that girls’ interests in games are increasing. It is not possible to determine exactly which games have caused this added interest. The Internet is the second most used activity on the computer. 43,8% of 8-12 year-olds used the Internet in 2002. However, the computer is also used for schoolwork (37,7%) and for play- and learning programmes (35,6%). Here, it is also interesting to note that the level of 8-12 year-olds using the computer for different activities is steady. Only schoolwork seems to have gradually decreased from 2000 till 2002. From 41,8% in 2002 to 40,0% in 2001 and 37,7% in 2002.

What does the data show about their use of the Internet?BWhat has highest priority? First and foremost, they surf for funB37,6% in 2000, unfortunately we are not able to tell from the data what kind of surfing they do. Secondly, they send e-mails (27,2% in 2000), and thirdly they use the Internet to search for information for schoolwork (16,0% in 2000). As a fourth point, 13,3% in 2000 participated in chat rooms. Once again, we cannot tell which chat-rooms they visit.

How do they find the websites?

Interestingly, mostly friends tell them about the different sites they find interesting (28,4% in 2000). Secondly, 23,1% of the respondents indicated that they explore the Internet themselves, 12,3% indicated that they hear about the websites "from other sources", 11,4% reported they learn about sites from commercials and finally 8,3% stated they got their information from siblings.

The development from 2000-2002 shows

* a steady level, but high percentage of children using the Internet

* gender differences in the use of the Internet (especially in relation to chat and games)

* downloading from the Internet is increasing.

The 8-12 year-olds’ downloads of various things from the Internet are increasing, but only among a minority of the total users. For example, on a scale from daily or almost daily to 1-5 times half-yearly, approximately 10% downloaded music from the Internet in 2002, approx. 13% programmes/files, approx. 17% pictures and approx. 7% wallpaper/screensavers. There is a legal aspect to the downloading of files and music, which both children and adolescents are aware of, but do not want to discuss:

Interviewer: "You download from the NetBcan you do it with the computer you have down there?"

Boy: "YesBit is very slow, so I do it mostly at one of my friend’s places"

Interviewer: "How long does it take to download?"

Boy: "It depends on the Internet connection"

Interviewer: "What about this?"

Boy: "I don’t know, maybe 20 minutes or so"

Interviewer: "It really depends on how big the computer is?"

Boy: "And it also depends on where you download to. For example if it is another person that has it on his computer"

Interviewer: "But is that legal?"

Boy: "Some are ok."

(Interview with 15-year old boy)


When comparing the Danish survey with other surveys from different countries, there seems to be a few differences as well as similarities. Denmark has a rather high level of Internet access compared to some of the other European countries. This means that Danish children and adolescents are more familiar with the computer and the Internet to a higher extent than peers in some other countries. However, their use of the Internet is very similar to findings from other studies. They use the Internet to surf for fun, e-mails, searching for information for schoolwork and participating in chat rooms. Few, but an increasing number, are also downloading various things from the Internet.

Another aspect, which is very much in accordance with other surveys, is the gender differences. Boys are more oriented towards games than girls, and girls seem to be more interested in seeking information in books and printed material than consulting the Internet. However, some of this may change in the future, depending on the development of games for girls, which seems to be the object of some attention.

In conclusion, we have gained some knowledge about children’s use of the Internet. As already mentioned, there are differences among different countries depending on, for instance, the degree of penetration of the Internet in the particular country. While it is a common trend that children and adolescents are "early adopters" of the Internet (Rogers 1995). Most of the research carried out so far has been focused on the time spent on the Internet, on the behaviour of the children and their preferences in relation to the use of the Internet. What is needed, however, are longitudinal and qualitative studies that would provide a deeper insight into the change in behaviour and preferences in relation to children’s use of new technology. Research into content such as, for instance, content analyses of the websites preferred by the children would also be beneficial. Such studies might provide a more realistic picture of the opportunities and dangers that are often associated with the use of the Internet.

Finally, a few words about the role of the educational system in relation to children and young people’s use of the Internet. As previously stated, there is a generation gap at play in relation to knowledge of the Internet. How is it possible to develop educational packages and teaching in relation to this new phenomenon when the pupils know more than the teachers?

In an attempt to solve this problem and develop teaching material for the Internet, the European Commission has made funds available for projects such as Educaunet and SAFT (Safety and Awareness for Tweens). Educaunet is a critical education programme for young people. It aims at helping children and adolescents to develop an autonomous, responsible attitude in their use of the Internet. This process is based on the proposition that education is a major safety component in the use of the Internet. The SAFT project’s objective is to raise awareness for the potential of the Internet and its dangers to young people and kids. The focus is on how to teach children and teenagers to be responsible Internet users and to diminish risky behaviour in these groups. There is no doubt that a new concept of what media literacy ought to be in the future is very important due to the rapidly changing media technology and media content. The children need tools to qualify them to navigate in the new exiting media landscape.


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Birgitte Tufte, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark
Jeanette Rasmussen, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark


E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6 | 2003

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