Kalmus, V., & Ólafsson, K. (2013). Editorial: A child-centred perspective on risks and opportunities in cyberspace. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 7(1), Article 1. doi:https://doi.org/10.5817/CP2013-1-1
Editorial: A child-centred perspective on risks and opportunities in cyberspace

Editorial: A child-centred perspective on risks and opportunities in cyberspace

Veronika Kalmus1, Kjartan Ólafsson2
1 Institute of Journalism and Communication, University of Tartu, Tartu, Estonia
2 School of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Akureyri, Akureyri, Iceland & Faculty of Social Studies, Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic


In the first decade of the 21st century, the context of children’s media use has changed almost beyond recognition. The expansion of the Internet and other digital media has raised many important questions. Some focus on the potential risks of this development (such as exposure to inappropriate material), while others focus on how this might be related to (or even driving) social change in general. This special issue has grown from the work of the EU Kids Online research network, which since 2006 has been a focal point for new findings and the critical evaluation of children’s use of digital media. In its first phase, the network identified and critically evaluated the findings of around 400 studies, drawing substantive, methodological and policy-relevant conclusions (see for example Livingstone & Haddon, 2009). The network found that the number of studies on children and the Internet has grown steadily since 2000, but these studies have been conducted in many countries, using diverse methods, and have been published in many different languages (see Donoso, Ólafsson & Broddason, 2009). With the aim of strengthening the comparative aspect of studies on children and the Internet, the EU Kids Online network surveyed children and parents in 25 European countries in 2010 (see for example Livingstone, Haddon, Görzig & Ólafsson, 2011).

The rationale behind this special issue was to serve as a publishing platform for articles addressing the overall topic of children in cyberspace. Researchers from the EU Kids Online network and beyond were invited to submit articles focussing on online opportunities, risks and safety.

It is encouraging for future efforts in collecting comparative data on this topic to see how the authors of the seven articles in this volume have employed the data and findings of the EU Kids Online survey. Two of the articles make direct use of the unique EU Kids Online data and the other articles use the survey findings either as a point of departure or for comparison.

Theoretical Approaches and Concepts

The intellectual work of the EU Kids Online project, as well as several articles in this special issue, take their point of departure in the conceptualisations of the risk society developed by Ulrich Beck (1986) and Anthony Giddens (1990; 1991). Beck and Giddens brought the examination of risk to the centre of analysing modern societies and social problems resulting from techno-economic development. While both Beck and Giddens focused on increasing reflexivity and individualisation in the context of emerging uncertainty, where “thinking in terms of risk and risk assessment is a more or less ever-present exercise” (Giddens, 1991, pp. 123-4) for experts in specific fields and lay persons alike, they did not pay much attention to children as reflexive actors. The articles in this special issue all emphasise the everyday experiences, perceptions and reflexivity of individual children as related to various online hazards and ways of dealing with them.

A paradigmatic feature of this special issue, expressed more or less explicitly in all of the articles, is the adoption of constructionist perspectives on social phenomena, in this case, on children’s online experiences. Risk, according to Deborah Lupton (1999a, p. 2), cannot “be isolated from its social, cultural and historical contexts”. In modern societies, negative and positive aspects of a great many phenomena – or risks and opportunities – are inextricably intertwined at the societal level and as experienced by individuals in their everyday lives (Livingstone & Haddon, 2009). Research on children’s Internet use also finds, time after time, that negative and positive aspects cannot be clearly separated. On the one hand, what adults regard as risks (for example, meeting strangers online), children may see as opportunities (for example, making new friends). On the other hand, new online opportunities may, as Beck (1986) anticipated, be accompanied by new forms of risk (e.g. to express him/herself on the Internet, a child must disclose personal information; Livingstone & Haddon, 2009). Following constructionist approaches enables the EU Kids Online research network, as well as the authors of the articles in this special issue, to draw sufficiently flexible – context and subject dependent – conceptual boundaries between online risks and opportunities and, when necessary, to view them as two sides of the same coin.

Many articles in this volume rely on the classification provided by the EU Kids Online network, which categorises children’s online opportunities and risks, firstly, by four themes or areas and, secondly, by three modes of online communication and the respective roles of children (see Livingstone & Haddon, 2009). The latter dimension, common to both opportunities and risks, distinguishes children as recipients of mass distributed content, children as participants in an interactive situation or contact, and children as actors in an interaction or conduct. The four thematic areas are different for opportunities and risks, with online opportunities being related to 1) education, learning and literacy, 2) participation and civic engagement, 3) creativity, and 4) identity and social connection, and online risks being classified as 1) commercial, 2) aggressive, 3) sexual, and 4) related to values. The resulting matrix thus displays twelve types of opportunities and twelve categories of risks. Out of these, the special issue covers a number of opportunities, such as social networking, shared experiences with others and online content creation, and risks such as cyber-bullying, unwanted exposure to pornography and online sexual harassment.

Another important conceptual boundary differentiates risk from harm. In general terms, risk is primarily defined as the probability of harm (Hansson, 2010). According to the constructionist, child-centred perspectives applied in this special issue, “harm” is conceptualised and measured subjectively in terms of the severity and duration of children’s negative experiences. Thus, although being cyber-bullied or encountering pornography or sexual solicitation online can be expected to increase the risk of harm, the studies reported in this volume asked children themselves whether they had perceived a specific online experience as harmful, and what they had done to cope with risky or problematic situations.

Ervin Goffman’s (1959) classic framework proved to be very applicable in several articles in this special issue (e.g. Kernaghan & Elwood, and Kupiainen) for conceptualising children’s online activities, both risky and non-risky. Goffman’s theory allows for framing online social interactions in terms of a performance complete with actors, an audience, “front” and “back” stages and scenery, and offers a way of thinking about how young people may act differently depending on the audience and setting. Furthermore, Goffman’s framework of performance and impression management, by emphasising the importance of everyday social contexts and people actively constructing roles and images of themselves, is perfectly in line with the constructionist perspectives applied in this special issue. Goffman’s theory, when applied to online contexts, also sheds light on the relativity and subjectivity of risk: young people’s risky online activities can be viewed as trying out different roles and identities in order to test boundaries and feel the pleasure of experiencing something unknown and exciting (cf. Lupton, 1999b).

The concept of networked publics (boyd, 2011) can be seen as an elaborated application of Goffman’s framework of performance and social space in the current ICT-saturated society. Several articles in this special issue (e.g. Kupiainen, and Oolo & Siibak) employ the framework of networked publics to explore strategies young people learn and develop in order to cope and thrive in complicated online spaces, characterised by different visible and invisible audiences, “regularly colliding” contexts (Papacharissi, 2011) and blurring boundaries between private and public. This complexity again leads to a multitude of highly context-dependent risks and opportunities related to networked sociability.

In line with the constructionist epistemology employed in this special issue, the articles follow the principle of child-centeredness as the guiding tenet for theorising and research. By abandoning the protectionist paradigm that sees children as passive victims of online risks and harm, always in need of adults’ guidance, help or control, the EU Kids Online network, as well as the articles in this issue, view kids as knowledgeable and resourceful actors vis-à-vis other social agents and public discourses. In this vein, the contributions to the special issue present children as reflexive subjects (Bond, and Ponte, Simões & Jorge), children as actors in online performances (Kernaghan & Elwood, Kupiainen, and Oolo & Siibak), children as adopting and developing coping strategies (Priebe, Mitchell & Finkelhor) and privacy strategies (Oolo & Siibak, and Kupiainen), and children as active creators of online content (Kupiainen).

Variety of Methodological Approaches

An overview of around 400 studies on children and the Internet from 2000 to 2008 showed that around 60% of studies relied only on quantitative data and some 20% of the studies used only qualitative data. The remaining studies used a combination of both approaches (see Donoso, Ólafsson & Broddason, 2009). Studies on children and the Internet have tended to focus on teenagers and only very few have included young children. According to the same overview (Donoso, Ólafsson & Broddason, 2009), up to half of all studies conducted between 2000 and 2008 focused on risks, while studies addressing the issue of online opportunities were less common.

In their choice of methodology, the articles in this special issue largely depart from the mainstream use of quantitative methods, with only two of the seven articles (Görzig & Frumkin, and Priebe, Mitchell & Finkelhor) being based on the quantitative analysis of survey data. For all of the articles in this special issue, the methodological approach is clearly related to the topics chosen. In a research field that is developing from studying access and use towards a more comprehensive and child-centred endeavour, including, for example, the meaning of risks, it is to be expected that the choice of methodology will also involve a wider use of qualitative and mixed methods. In this collection of studies, less common approaches, such as online interviews (Kernaghan & Elwood, and Oolo & Siibak), discourse analysis of open-ended survey questions (Ponte, Simões & Jorge) and ethnographic fieldwork including observations (Kupiainen), are also represented, along with more conventional focus group interviews (Bond).

When it comes to the ages of the children studied, the seven articles fall clearly within the broader spectrum of previous studies in Europe, as none of them includes children below the age of nine.

Introduction of the Articles

The first group of articles focuses on online risks and their meaning for children. Using open-ended questions from the Portuguese sample of the 2010 EU Kids Online survey and questions on online safety from a targeted survey of disadvantaged children in Portugal, Cristina Ponte, José Alberto Simões and Ana Jorge show how important it is to consider not only the phrasing of survey questions on risk but also the context in which the questions are posed. The authors also reflect upon the social and cultural embeddedness of the concept of risk.

Portable, personal and smart devices, associated with the spread of the mobile Internet, are becoming more and more popular among children, thus gaining an increasingly important role within their digital cultures. Drawing on data from a qualitative study on UK children’s perceptions, Emma Bond examines how 11-17-year-olds understand the relationship between risk and mobile phones in their everyday lives. The article illustrates the importance of mobile phones in young people’s constructions of identity, their day-to-day lives within the community and in connecting to their friends and families, and reveals the centrality of risk in children’s everyday lives. The findings suggest that the mobile phone simultaneously provides security and offers protection from certain risks while paradoxically increasing anxiety and creating feelings of vulnerability in children’s lives.

Of the different risks children might encounter on the Internet, cyberbullying is the most likely to have serious negative effects. Based on the EU Kids Online survey data, Anke Görzig and Lara Frumkin examine the differences between those who have been cyberbullied online and on mobile devices (on-the-go) and those who have been cyberbullied online but not on mobile devices. The results show that older children, girls and those using the Internet on mobile devices are more likely to experience cyberbullying on-the-go. Yet the authors do not see restricting mobile Internet use for these groups as a solution, as this would negatively affect the opportunities children can gain through these devices, e.g. increased satisfaction with life, perceived social support and positive self-views.

Looking at a similar topic, Donna Kernaghan and Jannette Elwood focus on how 12-15-year-old girls in Northern Ireland experience and participate in “cyberbullying” via Instant Messenger (IM) and social networking sites (SNS). The data indicate that these online forms of bullying may be facilitated within friendship groups in an offline context in order for the girls to have access to private or embarrassing information and the appropriate audience. Furthermore, the study shows that older girls experience and participate in cyberbullying more than younger girls do.

The second group of articles can be characterised as shedding light on strategies that children adopt, develop or invent to cope with risks and challenges in online spaces. The article by Gisela Priebe, Kimberly J. Mitchell and David Finkelhor focuses on children's responses to negative Internet experiences (sexual solicitation, online harassment and unwanted exposure to pornography). Being based on a nationally representative U.S. sample of 10-17-year-old Internet users and their caretakers, the study offers a rigorous quantitative description of three coping strategies (telling someone about the online experience, and ending the unwanted situation by active or passive coping) and their relations with the type of incidents, the degree of their seriousness, and children's characteristics. Among other findings, the article shows, quite surprisingly, that children less often revealed unwanted exposure to pornography if their caregivers had received information about child Internet safety. This implies that caregivers should talk with children about online sexual content in a non-judgemental way to avoid their children feeling guilty or discouraged from disclosing unwanted Internet experiences.

In their article, Egle Oolo and Andra Siibak explore various privacy strategies 13-16-year-old Estonians employ in order to manage their audiences on SNS, blogs and Instant Messenger. Their findings add some colourful brush-strokes to the existing canvas depicting everyday teen life in cyberspace, thus making the painting more complex and multidimensional. While the majority of the interviewed teens had, according to widespread assumptions, misconceptions about the size of their online audience, and they seldom thought about privacy issues when communicating on networked publics, others used deliberate strategies to “perform” in front of extended audiences and manage their privacy.

A rich variety of children’s online communicative and creative activities and privacy strategies is also demonstrated in Reijo Kupiainen’s article. In drawing upon a comprehensive ethnographic study of 13-16-year-old Finnish schoolchildren, the author presents a typology of teenage media production, ranging from individual to more communal and collaborative, and explores how creative online practices are related to different audiences, privacy concerns and the real-life school community as a central social space in children’s everyday life.

Overall, the seven articles assembled in this special issue offer valuable insight into children’s lives in different spheres of cyberspace, forming a patterned mosaic of children’s own perceptions and constructions, experiences and practices, and concerns and strategies.


The preparation of this article was supported by a grant from the Estonian Research Council (ETF8527). The authors also acknowledge the support of the VITOVIN project (CZ.1.07/2.3.00/20.0184), which is co-financed by the European Social Fund and the state budget of the Czech Republic.

Issue Content

Editorial: A child-centred perspective on risks and opportunities in cyberspace
Veronika Kalmus and Kjartan Ólafsson
doi: 10.5817/CP2013-1-1

Do questions matter on children’s answers about Internet risk and safety?
Cristina Ponte, José Alberto Simões and Ana Jorge
doi: 10.5817/CP2013-1-2

Mobile phones, risk and responsibility: Understanding children’s perceptions
Emma Bond
doi: 10.5817/CP2013-1-3

Cyberbullying experiences on-the-go: When social media can become distressing
Anke Görzig and Lara Frumkin
doi: 10.5817/CP2013-1-4

All the (cyber) world’s a stage: Framing cyberbullying as a performance
Donna Kernaghan and Jannette Elwood
doi: 10.5817/CP2013-1-5

To tell or not to tell? Youth’s responses to unwanted Internet experiences
Gisela Priebe, Kimberly J. Mitchell and David Finkelhor
doi: 10.5817/CP2013-1-6

Performing for one’s imagined audience: Social steganography and other privacy strategies of Estonian teens on networked publics
Egle Oolo and Andra Siibak
doi: 10.5817/CP2013-1-7

Young people’s creative online practices in the context of a school community
Reijo Kupiainen
doi: 10.5817/CP2013-1-8

About Journal

The 'Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace' is a web-based, peer-reviewed scholarly journal. The first peer-reviewed issue was published in September 2007. The journal is focussed on social science research about cyberspace. It brings psychosocial reflections of the impact of the Internet on people and society. The journal is interdisciplinary, publishing works written by scholars of psychology, media studies, sociology, political science, nursing, and also other disciplines. The journal accepts original research articles, as well as theoretical studies and research meta-analyses. Proposals for special issues are also welcomed.

The journal is indexed with EBSCO Academic Search Complete, the Directory of Open Access Journals, SCOPUS and the Czech Database of Scientific Journals.


Assoc. Prof. David Smahel, M.Sc. et Ph.D., Faculty of Social Studies, Masaryk University, Czech Republic
E-mail: smahel(at)fss.muni.cz

Associate Editor:

Assoc. Prof. Kristian Daneback, Ph.D., University of Gothenburg, Sweden
E-mail: kristian.daneback(at)socwork.gu.se

Guest Editors of Special Issue "Children in Cyberspace: Opportunities, Risks and Safety":

Veronika Kalmus, Ph.D., Institute of Journalism and Communication, University of Tartu, Estonia
E-mail: veronika.kalmus(at)ut.ee

Kjartan Ólafsson, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Akureyri, Iceland
E-mail: kjartan(at)unak.is

Editor Assistants:

Vera Kontrikova, M.A., Faculty of Social Studies, Masaryk University, Czech Republic
E-mail: kontriko(at)fss.muni.cz

Lenka Dedkova, M.A., Faculty of Social Studies, Masaryk University, Czech Republic
E-mail: ldedkova(at)fss.muni.cz

Editorial Board:

Prof. Kaveri Subrahmanyam, Ph.D., California State University, Los Angeles, USA
Prof. Herbert Hrachovec, Ph.D., University of Vienna, Austria
Prof. Dr. Micheline Frenette, Universite de Montreal, Canada
Prof. Alexander E. Voiskounsky, Ph.D., Moscow State University, Russia
Prof. Michael W. Ross, Ph.D., DrMedSc, MPH, MPHEd, University of Texas, Houston, USA
Prof. Petr Macek, CSc., Masaryk University, Czech Republic
Prof. Olle Findahl, World Internet Institute, Uppsala University, Sweden
Prof. Jochen Peter, Ph.D., University of Amsterdam, Netherlands
Prof. Veronika Kalmus, Ph.D., University of Tartu, Estonia
Assoc. Prof. Joshua Fogel, Ph.D., Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, USA
Assoc. Prof. Gustavo S. Mesch, Ph.D., University of Haifa, Israel
Václav Štětka, Ph.D., University of Oxford, UK
Andra Siibak, Ph.D., University of Tartu, Estonia
Birgit U. Stetina, Ph.D., University of Vienna, Austria
Lukas Blinka, M.A., Faculty of Social Studies, Masaryk University, Czech Republic

Advisory Board:

Prof. Bente Traen, Ph.D., University of Tromso, Norway
Prof. Charles Ess, Ph.D., Drury University, USA
Prof. Dr. Ilse Kryspin-Exner, University of Vienna, Austria
Prof. PhDr. Jan Jirák, Ph.D., Charles University, Czech Republic
Prof. Vasja Vehovar, Ph.D., University of Ljubljana, Slovenia
Prof. Dr. Larry D. Rosen, California State University, USA
Prof. Patricia M. Greenfield, Ph.D., University of California, USA
Prof. Peter K Smith, University of London, England
Prof. Nicola Döring, Ilmenau University of Technology, Germany
Prof. Kimberly Young, Center for Internet Addiction Recovery
Prof. Jos de Haan, Ph.D., Erasmus University, Netherlands
Prof. Zbyněk Vybíral, Faculty of Social Studies, Masaryk University, Czech Republic
Prof. Monica Whitty, Ph.D., Nottingham Trent University, UK
Assoc. Prof. Alfred Choi, Ph.D., Wee Kim School of Communication and Information, Singapore
Assoc. Prof. T. Ramayah, Technology Management Lab, School of Management, Universiti Sains Malaysia
Assoc. Prof. Neil Coulson, Ph.D., The University of Nottingham, UK
Assoc. Prof. Kenneth C. C. Yang, Ph.D., University of Texas at El Paso, USA
Assoc. Prof. Sun Sun Lim, Ph.D., National University of Singapore, Singapore
Assoc. Prof. Sameer Hinduja, Ph.D., Florida Atlantic University, USA
Assoc. Prof. Jana Horáková, Ph.D., Faculty of Arts, Masaryk University, Czech Republic
Assist. Prof. Alexander Schouten, Ph.D., Tilburg University, Netherlands
Assist. Prof. Ewa S. Callahan, Ph.D., School of Communications, Quinnipiac University, USA
Assist. Prof. Regina van den Eijnden, Ph.D., Utrecht University, Netherlands
PhDr. Ing. Petr Soukup, Ph.D., Faculty of Social Studies, Charles University, Czech Republic
Alistair Duff, Ph.D., Napier University, Scotland
Janis Wolak, Ph.D., University of New Hampshire, USA
Francesca Romana Seganti, Ph.D., American University of Rome, Italy
Jeffrey Gavin, Ph.D., University of Bath, UK
Pille Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt, Ph.D., University of Tartu, Estonia
PhDr. Radim Polčák, Ph.D., Faculty of Law, Masaryk University, Czech Republic
Michael Fenichel, Ph.D., New York, USA
Leslie Haddon, Ph.D., London School of Economics, UK
Monica Barbovschi, Ph.D., Babes-Bolyai University, Romania
Jan Sirucek, Ph.D., Faculty of Social Studies, Masaryk University, Czech Republic


Masaryk University, Faculty of Social Studies
Jostova 10, 60200 Brno
Czech Republic

Publication Schedule

Twice per year (July and December) plus special issues


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Correspondence to:
Veronika Kalmus
Institute of Journalism and Communication
University of Tartu
Lossi 36

Email: veronika.kalmus(at)ut.ee