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What younger children really think and understand about internet safety: The value of stories and role play as research methods

Lindsey Watson

Younger children under the age of eight are increasingly embracing the digital world (Mekinc, Smailbegovic & Kokic, 2013). My intention at this year’s BERA conference is to consider younger children’s role within research aimed at understanding their perceptions of online safety. Younger children’s increased digital engagement is recognised and encouraged by the Government (Department for Education,2017), alongside an awareness of child online safety (Ofsted,2015). Many studies concerned with younger children’s online safety focus on children’s type of digital engagement, safety and protection (Chaudron, 2015; Holloway, Green & Livingstone, 2013). However, as Chaudron (2015) suggests, younger children show little awareness of what the internet is and any associated risks or benefits they may encounter. Does this increased digitalisation of younger children’s lives, yet apparent lack of awareness, identify that more research in this area would potentially help to shape understandings of child online safety?

Research paucity surrounding younger children’s perceptions of the internet may reflect assumed difficulties in research involving children (Olfasson, Livingstone & Haddon, 2013). However, it is recognised that research with children is desirable to research on children and that giving them a voice enables them to be active participants, causing a cultural shift where they are the subjects within the research as opposed to the objects (Pinter, Kuchah & Smith, 2013). As younger children’s worlds become increasingly digitalised, is it time to find out more about what they think about online safety, and how can this information be used to help keep younger children safe online?

“What can be done to learn more about younger children’s perceptions around online safety?”

What can be done to learn more about younger children’s perceptions around online safety? The proposed study will use creative methodologies, such as storytelling and roleplay, to encourage children as active research participants. As we begin to view younger children as competent research participants, the study will examine the impact of storytelling and roleplay in facilitating children’s social skills to express their views about online safety (Quintero, 2010). It is envisaged that the social element of storytelling and roleplay will facilitate younger children’s participation and agency within the research, through enabling children’s multiple voices, whilst facilitating data collection of opinions and perceptions (Jug & Vilar, 2015; Lomax, 2012).

As the younger child is increasingly considered as a competent research participant, is it time to encourage them to demonstrate their understandings about staying safe online? How can these understandings be encouraged and how can they be interpreted to help keep younger children safe whilst online in the future?


Chaudron, S. (2015). Young Children (0-8) and Digital Technology: A Qualitative Exploratory Study Across Seven Countries. Ispra: Joint Research centre – European commission.

Department for Education. (2017). Statutory framework for the early years foundation stage Setting the standards for learning, development and care for children from birth to five. Manchester: Department for Education.

Holloway, D., Green, L., & Livingstone, S. (2013). Zero to Eight, Young Children and their Internet Use. London: London School of Economics and Political Science & EU Kids Online.

Jug, T., & Vilar, P. (2015). Focus Group interview through storytelling: Researching pre-school children’s attitudes towards books and reading. Journal of Documentation, 71(6), 1300-1316.

Lomax, H. (2012). Contested voices? Methodological tensions in creative visual research with children. International Journal of Social Research Methodology 15(2), 105–117.

Mekinc, J., Smailbegovic, T., & Kokic, A. (2013). Should we be Concerned about Children Using the Internet? – Pilot Study. Innovative Issues and Approaches in Social Sciences, 6(2), 6-20.

Ofsted. (2015). Inspecting safeguarding in early years, education and skills settings. Guidance for inspectors undertaking inspection under the common inspection framework. Manchester: Ofsted.

Olfasson, K., Livingstone, S., & Haddon, L. (2013). Children’s Use of Online Technologies in Europe: A Review of the European Evidence Database. London: London School of Economics and Political Science and EU Kids Online.

Pinter, A., Kuchah, K., & Smith, R. (2013). Researching with Children. ELT Journal, 67(4), 484-487.

Quintero, E. (2010). Something to Say: Children Learning Through Story. Early Education and Development, 21(3), 372-391.


Presentation details: ICT and computing in the Early Years  Thursday 7th September 2017, 10.05  FUL-109