“Young Swedes and the Internet” is an annual survey published by research group the World Internet Institute and shows that internet use continues to creep down the age groups.
“The starting age, measured as 50 percent internet users in an age group, declined by one year for every passing year. For the nine years from 2000 to 2009, the debut age has fallen from 13 to four years old,” wrote Olle Findahl, lead researcher at the World Internet Institute, in the report.
The 2009 report, published on Thursday, shows that socioeconomic backgrounds and gender remain key factors in how early and in what manner children learn to use the internet.
Among children of educated parents 67 percent use the internet at least once a week, while only 25 percent of children whose parents are less educated used the internet daily. Children of educated parents therefore typically come to school well prepared to use the internet, while many children of less educated parents enter school with little internet experience.
“It is important that schools note the significant differences in internet experience among children,” said Findahl.
Although 92 to 99 percent of all schoolchildren say they have access to computers and the internet at school they do not become a part of daily school life until the students are in their late teens and many thus learn to use the web at home.
Swedish children generally start using the internet at an early age with every other four-year-old having some form of access to the web and internet tools – mainly games and movies, the report shows.
School-age children are rarely assigned tasks that involve internet use because some teachers do not consider it important for schoolwork although many young people use the internet in their free time at home and as a tool to gather information for for schoolwork.
The report also shows that there are significant variations in internet use between the sexes, with girls using the internet in more varied ways than boys and starting earlier.
Girls were typically found to use the internet to chat, blog, follow and comment on each other’s blogs, communicate with instant messaging (IM), join social networking sites and upload videos and photos, all at an earlier stage and to a greater extent than boys do.
Despite the broader internet experience that girls have and their more advanced use of the web, boys consider themselves more tech-savvy than girls.
“It is remarkable that the girls, despite the fact that they are less interested in technology and new technological gadgets (sic), have conquered the internet and in many respects are more active and years ahead of boys in their use of the internet,” said Findahl.
“One reason seems to be that they produce content that interests them.”
By age 12 to 13, every fifth girl writes a blog and by 20, more than half blog on a daily basis, while seven out of 10 read other blogs. Among children aged 12 to 15-years-old, girls are also more active in social networks and make up two-thirds of the members.
Internet games are for many children their first contact with the internet and are a dominant activity for both boys and girls up to school age. When they start school, girls play games less and replace the time with other communicative activities.
In contrast, boys generally continue to play games daily and the activity dominates their time throughout their teenage years, with two out of three boys playing at least one to three times a week into their 20s.
The “Young Swedes and the Internet” report is an annual survey conducted by the World Internet Institute and published in cooperation with the Internet Infrastructure Foundation (Stiftelsen för Internetinfrastruktur) and the Media Council (Medierådet).