Net Aware: our methodology How we created your guide to the social networks your kids use

Net Aware homepageAs part of our belief in helping parents know how to keep their children safe online, we wanted to develop a guide, primarily aimed at parents of 8-12 year olds, about the social networks, apps or games with an interactive element that children use most frequently.

We worked with our online safety partner, O2 – to find out what over 500 parents thought about the social networks that children use. We've also asked 1720 young people what they thought.

The purpose of the guide is to provide parents with the information they need to understand their child's online world and help them keep their children safe online. We're encouraging parents to explore what other parents and children are saying about the sites, and form their own views about the appropriateness of popular sites.

We hope that Net Aware can help give parents the confidence to have balanced and informed conversations about what their children are doing online. 

The social networks

To choose the featured social networks, we asked 1720 children and young people aged 11-18 to identify the most popular and most used networking sites, apps or games that also appeared in:

  • the top 100 most downloaded apps as identified on iTunes in October 2015 
  • the top 100 most downloaded apps as identified on Google Play in October 2015 
  • the top 50 website entities accessed by children aged 6-14 in "Children and parents: media use and attitudes report" based on comScore data.

 

The reviewers

Parents: We worked with O2 to recruit parents of 8-14 year olds to review social networks that children use. Over 700 parents joined the O2/NSPCC 'Parent Advisory Board'.

Each parent was asked to review 1, 2 or 3 social networks, using a questionnaire developed by the NSPCC. They took part as volunteers, but for each review undertaken they were placed in a prize draw, to win 4 prizes kindly donated by O2.

Children and young people: In total, we consulted 1720 children and young people across the UK by visiting 12 schools and using ChileLine engagement platforms, such as NSPIRE. This work was done by our Participation Unit which ensures the voices of children are heard in everything we do.

The questionnaire

We used national and international best practice in keeping children safe online to help us design the questionnaire that the O2/NSPCC Parent Advisory Board completed. We asked them to provide qualitative and quantitative information, based on their experience on the site in question, about:

  • signing up to the app, site or game
  • reporting and blocking features
  • privacy settings
  • how appropriate content is for children and young people.

Ease of signing up, ability to report and block inappropriate material, and the ability to modify privacy settings are all key elements of international recognised standards for internet safety.

What parents "need to know"

The data for each social network was analysed separately. For the "What parents need to know" section of the guide, we looked at 3 sections of the questionnaire (signing up, reporting and privacy settings).

We gave each question rated by the O2/NSPCC Parent Advisory Board, a numerical score from 0 to 5. The higher the score, the better the site or service was at providing and making easily accessible its internet safety features. We then added up the totals for each of the 3 categories. Positive, neutral and negative thresholds were defined based on the number of questions asked and the minimum and maximum numerical scores possible.

Quotes from parents, children and young people

Parents

The O2/NSPCC Parent Advisory Board were asked for any advice they would give to other parents, and were prompted to provide a comment on both a positive aspect of the network and something to watch out for. We combined the responses provided for each network, and identified the top 3 issues for parents to look out for and the top 3 positive things about each network. The quotes that directly related to these were then pulled out for use in Net Aware.

Children and young people

We asked children and young people to rate each social network on a scale of 1 to 10 for risk as part of the work done by our Participation Unit. Children filled out an online survey independantly, and commented on why they thought the social networks were risky - or not.

We also asked them why they did or didn't like the sites, apps or games. We combined the quantitative responses and identified the top 3 risks and top 3 reasons why children liked each network. The comments were subsequently analysed, and quotations that directly related to the top risks and main reasons why children liked the platform were pulled out for use in Net Aware.

Choosing the quotes

Where possible, for the children's data we have extracted 2 positive quotes and 1 negative quote for use on Net Aware. For the O2/NSPCC Parent Advisory Board data, we have extracted 2 negative quotes and 1 positive quote for use in the tool. This is consistent with the overall balance of comments made by the panel members. Some sites didn't have sufficient, or any appropriate, quotes to use. We have highlighted where this is the case.

Age ratings

Parents

We asked the O2/NSPCC Parent Advisory Board "What is the minimum age you think a child should be when they use this site unsupervised?" We took an average of the responses from the panel for each social network.

Children and young people

We asked children and young people which age they would recommend children should be to use the apps, sites or games. We then took an average of all the responses for each site.

Inappropriate or unsuitable content

Parents' reviews

We asked members of the O2/NSPCC Parent Advisory Board to browse the social network instead of actively taking part. As part of the review, we wanted to know whether they had seen any content that they thought would be inappropriate for a child. If they did, we asked the panel to tell us which category of inappropriate content they had seen. We chose these categories based on the main risks and concerns children face online, as identified in academic research.

The panel members were asked to register on the social network using their own details (when asked). Some sites, apps and games use software that targets content based on the age of the individual on registration. So it's possible that some of the content the panel saw might not have been seen by a child or young person.

However, we know from research that a large number of children and young people have created social networking profiles before they are at the specified age (usually 13) to do so.

Children's reviews

We asked children to think about whether they had seen any inappropriate content on the specific platforms that they reviewed. We asked children and young people to identify what category of inappropriate content they had seen. We chose these categories based on the main risks and concerns children face online, as identified in academic research. For children aged under 13, we withdrew the category “images, videos or messages that encourage you to hurt yourself (e.g. encourage eating disorders or self-harm).

Analysis

We combined the responses from the board members reviews and the reviews from children and young people and categorised each content category into 'low risk', 'medium risk' or 'high risk' based on the responses given:

  • if over 50% of respondents had seen content that was inappropriate, the site was rated as high risk
  • if between 20% and 49% of respondents had seen content that was inappropriate, the site was rated as medium risk
  • if 19% or less of respondents had seen content that was inappropriate, the site was rated as low risk

Your guide to social networks

Net Aware is our no-nonsense guide to the social networks, sites and apps children use.

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