Audiences, Participation & Engagement, Digital Culture, Media Industries

Children who are well informed are less worried – A study in 42 countries on “Children, Media, and COVID-19”

Professor Jeanette Steemers 

Together with Cardiff University, CMCI administered the UK component of a worldwide survey of 4,322 children aged between 9 and 13 in 42 countries.  289 UK children took part in the survey over a period of 10 days from 16-26 April, the second-highest number after Belgium, also a country that has experienced high levels of Covid-19 infections. Although based on a convenience sample administered during the lockdown,  the survey showed that if children have some basic knowledge about the virus and how to protect themselves and others from it, they are less worried. If children believe fake news such as “Eating garlic can prevent you from catching the coronavirus”, they are more likely to be “very worried”.

Initiated by the  International Central Institute for Youth and Educational Television at the Bavarian Broadcasting Cooperation, and the PRIX JEUNESSE Foundation,  the study “Children, Media, and COVID-19” asked questions about children’s emotions and knowledge regarding the coronavirus, their media use, and their strategies for reducing stress and regulating their own media consumption. The samples cannot claim to be representative of the countries or on a global level. Nevertheless, they offer some interesting findings and tendencies regarding how children perceive Covid-19.

For nearly all the children surveyed worldwide, life has changed radically. Most at this point were no longer going to school, often their parents are working from home, sport and leisure activities are no longer possible. Worldwide, one in two children felt worried because of coronavirus. The percentage of children being “very worried” differs from country to country. While the proportion of “very worried” children in Austria (2 %) and Germany (3 %) is low, it was around three quarters in e.g. Tanzania “very worried.

The greatest fear among all children was that a family member will fall ill, that they won’t be able to visit their grandparents and other relatives for a long time.

What this study makes very clear, however, is the connection between being worried and knowledge. The fewer facts the children know about the virus and how to protect themselves from it, the higher the proportion who are “very worried”.

Children are especially likely to be “very worried” if they are taken in by fake news stories, e.g. that “coronavirus has been used as a weapon by a foreign government”, or that “garlic stops you from catching the coronavirus”. The conclusion drawn from this is that knowledge is linked with a reduction in uncertainty and thus in a reduction of worries.

This suggests that children need reliable age-appropriate information and media that are made for them explaining the situation without scaring them away or fostering anxiety.