My Kid’s are Angels? – Internet and Kids, A Portuguese Case Study

Gonçalo Jorge Morais da Costa and Nuno Miguel Araújo da Silva


What began by being in a network for military ends during the Cold War and later to academic ends, the well known ARPANET, Internet rapidly changed from a venue used by a small number of scientists to a popular phenomenon affecting all aspects of life in industrialized nations.

Today, the Internet offers a much wider scope of tools used for information transmission and retrieval, communication and interaction (December, 1996). Plus, these technologies have formed the capacity to enhance synchronicity, asynchronicity and interactivity in computer mediated communication (Newhagen and Rafaeli, 1996; Weiser, 2001; Conde, Torres-Lana and Ruiz, 2002). In a study concerning the causal motivations to the use of the Internet (Weiser, 2001) it appeared two full-bodied scopes that absorb 50% of the variance: a relational and affiliative motivation (socio-affective regulation) and a functional and utilitarian motivation (acquisition of information). Other authors still defend a third reason: the entertainment.

In fact, that remarkable massification implied that scholars from diverse disciplines have taken an interest in trying to comprehend the Internet and Internet users. However, as a variety of researchers have noted, guidelines for ethical research on human subjects written before the Internet’s growth can be difficult to extend to research on Internet users (Eysenback and Till, 2001; Frankel and Siang, 1999; Reid, 1996; Waskul and Douglass, 1996).

In conclusion, Internet leads us to two levels of justification:

  • it can be seen as a “tool” for research; and,
  • it can be seen itself as the “research”.

In this paper, the aim is to understand the second level of justification, and moreover the behavioural divergence between kids and adults as Internet users, through a field study that paid attention to the ethical dimensions stated by Pimple (2002). In fact, we may claim that this paper is a following up of our previous work (Costa, 2005; Costa and Silva, 2007), and simultaneously makes an important contribution to an area where there is a lack of existing field studies, namely in Portugal, where only recently some studies were performed concerning behaviour in Multi User Domains (MUD´s).

A questionnaire, which Webster’s new collegiate dictionary (1990) defines as “a set of questions for submission to a number of persons to get data…” offers several important advantages over other methods or instruments for collecting data. Among them are the following ones:

the questionnaire tends to encourage frank answers and help to eliminate interviewer bias;
questionnaires are usually relatively inexpensive to administer and can be completed in the respondent’s own time.

Moreover, beside the questionnaire classification is important to address the types of questions. For that, we will follow the work of Macionis and Plummer (1998), considering multiple choice questions. At this point, the authors are processing and analysing the existent information in order to present in Ethicomp 2008 the quantitative and qualitative analysis that seem necessary.

The enounced study was conducted in Portugal, more precisely in Caldas da Rainha, through a field questionnaire done into College Queen D. Leonor in December 2007. Such institution has more than 1100 students, whose ages are between 9 and 18 years old (5th and 12th school year). Our questionnaire entails into a sample value of 25% regarding the student’s universe. However, as we stated previously this paper aims also to debate adult knowledge level concerning the Internet and how their kids use it, and for that, it was necessary to conduct a questionnaire also to their parents.

Finally, we should refer that the questionnaires had three dimensions of answers:

  • concerning internet access;
  • action’s analysis;
  • behavioural analysis.

The following and natural step of this abstract is to present some of the questions concerning each dimension, starting by kids and then introducing adult’s questions…


  • On a holiday day, how much of your leisure time do you spend in the Internet?;
  • How much of the information on the internet do you think you can trust?;
  • If you want to get in touch with a friend, which one of these would you use?;
  • Imagine you were entering a competition, what information about yourself would you give to be able to win a prize on the internet?;
  • While on the internet what information have you ever given to another person that you have not met face to face?;
  • How often do you disobey to the time for online use imposes by your parents?;
  • How often do you prefer to spend time online rather than with the rest of your family?;
  • How often do you seem withdrawn from others since discovering the internet?;
  • How often do you seem preoccupied with being back online when offline?;
  • How often do you feel unhappy when you are offline?


  • What is your literacy level?;
  • Who is the best at using the internet at home?;
  • Do you do any of these things on the internet?;
  • Do you know if your child performs any of these things?;
  • When your child is on the internet, are there any things he/she is not allowed to do?;
  • On the computer your child uses at home, are any of these sites or activities blocked or filtered?;
  • How often does your child form new relationships with online users?;
  • How often does your child become defensive or secretive when asked what he or she does online?;
  • How often does your child seem preoccupied with being back online when offline?;
  • How often does your child become angry or belligerent when you place time limits on how much time he or she is allowed to spend online?
  • How often does your child feel depressed, moody, or nervous when offline which seems to goes away once back online?


Conde, E., Torres-Lana, E. and Ruiz, C. (2002). El nuevo escenario de Internet: lás relaciones para-sociales de adolescentes y jóvenes en la red, Cultura y Educación, 14, 2, pp. 133-136.

Costa, G. (2005). Internet: middle of communication ethically incompatible? Or not?, Ethicomp 2005. Available in the Internet: http://localhost/conferences/ethicomp/ethicomp2005/conferencepapers/61

Costa, G. and Silva, N. (2007). Internet and young people: how ethical can it be?. ETHICOMP 2007, Tokyo, Japan.

December, J. (1996). Internet communication, Journal of Communication, 46, pp. 14-33.

Eysenback, G. and Till, J. (2001). Ethical Issues in Qualitative Research on Internet Communities, BMJ, 323, pp. 1103-1105.

Frankel, M. and Siang, S. (1999). Ethical and Legal Aspects of Human Subjects Research on the Internet: A Report of a Workshop. American Association for the Advancement of Science. Available at the Internet:

Macionis, J. and Plummer, K. (1997). Sociology, A Global Introduction. : New Jersey: Prentice Hall Inc.

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