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Net Children Go Mobile: UK children’s experience of smartphones and tablets: perspectives from children, parents and teachers

Qualitative findings Report

The main focus of this report is on UK children’s experience of mobile media and the mobile internet, with an emphasis on smartphones and tablets. Ultimately the project is interested in risk and safety issues, but to contextualise this, the report also considers children’s adoption and use of these devices and the wider consequences that follow. The overall research involved a qualitative study of children, their parents, teachers and others working with young people in nine European countries: Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Portugal Romania, Spain and the UK. This report focuses specifically on the UK data.

The report builds on a number of related previous studies. The first is the quantitative survey conducted by Net Children Go Mobile (Mascheroni & Ólafsson, 2014), which covered patterns of smartphone and tablet use, as well as risk issues. The current qualitative study reported here provides an opportunity to reflect on some of the statistics and explore further some of the patterns identified through in-depth interviews where children, parents and others could explain their perspectives and decisions. The second report of relevance to the current one is the qualitative study conducted by the EU Kids Online network (Smahel & Wright, 2014). The specific UK findings from that project were also reported (Haddon and Livingstone, 2014). It is worth adding that all the national teams in Net Children Go Mobile also took part in the EU Kids Online project generally, and many also took part in that EU Kids Online qualitative study. Hence this is very much a sister project, often noting what difference mobile internet access makes compared to the general internet access examined in the EU Kids Online study. The EU Kids Online project also conducted a European survey (Livingstone et al, 2011), with a separate UK report (Livingstone et al, 2010). At times there are also references in the current report
to these findings in order to provide more contextual information.

There are some differences from the previous EU Kids Online qualitative research. In general there is still only a limited amount of research on smartphones (Verkasalo et al., 2010; Lee, 2013), even less on smartphones and children (Bertel, 2013) and little on tablets (Park, 2013). It was therefore important to spend more time in the Net Children Go Mobile project establishing how children acquire and use these devices and why those patterns exist, since it might have repercussions for risk and safety issues. Based on a similar rationale, we also asked more general questions about what difference these devices, and this mobile internet, makes in young people’s lives, and how they (and adults) evaluate those changes. The aim is to put the discussion of risks and safety into a broader perspective, for example, to see what issues are problematic for parents, teachers and children and how that compares to their evaluation of areas of risk identified elsewhere (Livingstone et al., 2012).