Keeping it Real: An exploratory study of how 13-14-year-olds critically engage with online content

Exploratory study in the factors the influence whether different group of 13-14 year olds engage critically with the information they encounter on social media.

The study looks into children of different socio-economic backgrounds in Mexico, South Africa and the Netherlands (7 groups in total). Findings include ‘profiles’ for each group, describing their characteristics relative to the other groups; ‘personas’, describing different styles of engaging with online content that were found in all groups; and an overview of personal factors (ranging from confidence with digital content to material facilities) that influence the behaviour of these children.

The findings have led to several sets of recommendations: for educators seeking to improve media literacy skills; for media and media development organisations seeking to engage with youth and/or the importance of reliable information; and for further research.

Some highlights of these recommendations are:

  • Involve young people actively in the content production of news and information that is geared toward their age group. Involve (independent) journalists to encourage critical thinking, to share their experiences and help them understand the choices journalists and other content producers make.
  • Within-group differences are large and children are receptive to support from their peers. Peer-to-peer support should therefore be facilitated.
  • Provide children with a lower socioeconomic background with the facilities wealthier children have at home.
  • Close monitoring of children’s online behaviour (including by their parents) does not have beneficial effects. Instead, facilitating children to ask questions when they arise increases the likelihood that they will develop a critical attitude.
  • Many children know how to check when they don’t trust something, but they apply this knowledge inconsistently. Those who can describe their approach step-by-step are more likely to apply it. Encourage children to make explicit their view of whether something is reliable and apply this deliberately.

Author: Tim Schoot Uiterkamp et al.

Year Country Author Type
2020 Global, Mexico, Netherlands, South Africa Free Press Unlimited policy recommendations, report, research report
Theory of Change Keywords Download/link
Intermediate Outcome 2, Intermediate Outcome 3 digital, digital divide, diversity, Facebook, internet use, media literacy, online harassment, research, social media, youth Download/link