Cultural factors and parental mediation styles of Internet use in Europe

Cultural factors and parental mediation styles of Internet use in Europe

Parental mediation in the use of internet at home by minors is widespread in Europe. The various styles however, correspond to levels of effectiveness that tend to differ according to the legal frameworks, values ​​and ideologies that guide the national education styles. This is the principle argument developed in Parental Mediation of Children's Internet Use in Different European Countries , an interesting cross-cultural study conducted by Polish researcher Lucyna Kirwil, published in the Journal of Children and Media (Vol. 3, No. 4, 2009 , pp. 394-409).

Given what has emerged particularly in the Asian-American research- the main source of knowledge of the new media- the analysis of correlations between mediation practices, value orientations and problematic online experiences has intended to verify the validity of a key part of the study: the hypotheses regarding the relationship between culture and the prevention of online risks in Europe. Information on the prominent values that guide the education of children in Europe was taken from the European Values ​​Study 1999 and the data collected through the interviews of 1,949 parents/caretakers of children between the ages of 6 and 17 years old in 18 European countries contained in Eurobarometer 2005-2006, the source of data on household use of the Internet, online experiences and parental measures taken.

The production of acquired material, carried out through the procedures of the confirmatory factor analysis and cluster-analysis, permitted the individualization of four cultural groupings along the theoretical continuum of individualism-collectivism, which vary according to the tendencies of the national education styles of particular countries: those considered to be moving towards the promotion of personal interests, thus favoring the development of a sense of self-esteem, responsibility and personal initiative; or conversely, those moving towards the subordination of these values to the logic of the group, favoring in particular the development of a sense of obedience.

The crossing of variables brought to light two main findings. 1- The parental mediation strategies based on technical solutions tend to not be practiced much. 2- The majority of parents are against a shared use of the Web, particularly those coming from a moderately to strong individualistic culture (respectively, the countries of the Protestant tradition in Northern Europe, those of the Catholic tradition, and Greece) and a culture with mixed values ​​(English-speaking countries, and Belgium). In a collectivistic-oriented group (post-communist countries, and Portugal), there was a tendency for time limits of use. In general, rules of access and duration, technical solutions, software-based monitoring / filtering on PC, using and sharing experiences of educational practices aimed at promoting critical thinking skills of children, albeit with different weight percentages, are present in all groups.

The overall analysis of the data suggests that: 1.The majority of European parents, regardless of social and cultural constraints, prefer to rely on multilevel strategies. 2. The roots and the priority levels of the various forms of mediation tend to differ depending on the cultural approach: the more individualistically marked the culture is, the more prevalent are the forms of educational proposals, focused on the potential of the individual and the means. On the contrary, where the individualistic orientation is less rooted, more protective pedagogical approaches tend to prevail, where attention is centered on the risks arising from the use of the means.

Regarding the relationship between the strategies used and experiences of online discomfort / danger reported, it was found that when parents accompany their children when using the internet, it significantly reduces the likelihood that children will have problematic experiences. However, the level of protection of various practices seems to vary according to the prevailing orientation of the culture. These tendencies are particularly evident in the case of the time restriction.

The study of Kirwil, mentioned here in its general outlines, has helped define a first map of trends in the Old Continent. According to the results, European parents consider it useful to mediate their children’s internet use, especially for young children, which recent data show to be the first drawn to the Web, attracted by ever more easier, immediate and multimedia forms of interaction. If the study is confirmed by more extensive sampling surveys, the figure is undoubtedly comforting as it is in the home-family context that the children are first socialized and encounter meanings, values ​​and norms on the use of media. Moreover, this home-family context is the first area that the child’s use of the media should be encouraged and accompanied through stimulation and control action, with respect to their personality.

As mentioned above, the styles of mediation tend to be based on multilevel synergetic strategies. This would seem to ensure a greater level of protection, considering among other things, the different idea of risk that adults and children have. This difference in perception is often results from children failing to share their online experiences with their parents and the parents’ lack of awareness or underestimation of the type of internet activity in which their children engage.

Finally, what emerges from the study suggests that paying more attention to the socio-cultural context can help one understand in what way the children of that context approach the internet and other media. It is important to assess whether or not a given society tends to value the sense of autonomy or conversely, the heteronomy of the people. This favors the identification of the most effective practices of parental mediation and the more appropriate institutional policies in support of a safe and aware use of the Internet.