Where do kids think the internet lives? And what does it look like to them? The answer to those questions may surprise you...
Do you know what the internet looks like? Explaining the complex nature of such a huge, invisible global network to adults is difficult enough, but doing it in a way that’s accessible to the younger generation is an even bigger challenge.
So what does your average child think of the web’s inner workings? We’ve asked them to sketch their best guess. And some of their drawings may surprise you…
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The Vodafone Foundation is big on helping parents teach their kids about the digital world in a safe and informed way. It’s why we’ve recently launched the Moshi Monsters Digital Facts of Life cards in Vodafone stores – free cards that help raise important discussions about the web and the mobile internet.
To get some further insight, we partnered with parenting charity The Parent Zone to go into several schools and asked kids to ‘draw the internet.’ We’ve been chatting to Vicki Shotbolt from The Parent Zone to explain what happened, and what we found out…
Drawing the internet
“The competition was an opportunity to ask young children (4-10 year olds) what they thought the internet was,” says Vicki, “and what emerged ended up being really interesting because it demonstrated that their understanding of what the internet is was, in some cases, a million miles away from the reality.
“When we asked these children where they thought the internet was, they said things like, ‘it’s in the kitchen’, or ‘in the box underneath the computer’, or they thought it lives in the computer mouse. Quite a few of them thought it was in the ICT department cupboard at school. They all had this idea of the internet being a very small, local place.
“The other thing we asked was ‘who do you think keeps the internet safe?’ And they all thought it was somebody they knew – either their mum or big brother, or someone at school. It was always a person.”
It’s easy to find these answers amusing, but they’re also slightly worrying, and Vicki says that they’re part of a wider problem. “We forget that that the internet is something that needs to be explained. We have this narrative that children now grow up with it and therefore know what it is, but of course they don’t.
“It’s a bit like teaching someone how to ride a bicycle without showing them a bicycle,” she explains. “It’s a bit bonkers to teach young people how to stay safe online, without explaining to them what ‘online’ really means. We’ve missed a big part of the picture.”
Understanding the issue
So why is this the case? Partly because the internet is still new to adults, let alone kids. “It’s so new,” says Vicki. “This generation of parents haven’t had to explain this before, and no one explained it to them because the internet wasn’t the shape it is now.”
As well as that, Vicki tells us, the web is an incredibly complex system – and that makes questions about it tricky to field. “It’s a difficult thing to explain. The internet has become part of a set of questions that parents duck, almost like ‘where do babies come from?’ But it’s one of those questions that we as adults really struggle to explain.
“And it’s not just parents – it’s all adults. If we did the same exercise with adults, very few would know exactly how the internet works.”
So what’s the answer? “Think about kids’ online activity in exactly the same way you think about their offline activity,” says Vicki. “You’d routinely ask your kids where they were going where they were going when they leave your front door, so you should routinely ask them where they’re going when they go online.”
If you’re a parent and you could do with some extra help, head over to The Parents Zone website for tips, resources and advice. Alternatively, you can download Vodafone’s free Digital Parenting Guide here: