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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Web Surfing Isn't Child's Play, Especially When Ads Appear

NEW YORK -- The next time your web browser freezes, you may not want to assume that the nearest 10-year-old can fix the problem. A new study indicates that, contrary to prevailing wisdom, children are often as baffled by technology as adults.

One difference, though, is that they are not as intimidated by digital gadgets and their inevitable meltdowns.

"A lot of adults, if a scary dialog box comes up, they feel that they have blown up their computer -- that reaction you don't see among the kids,'' said Jakob Nielsen, principal of the Nielsen Norman Group, the consulting company that conducted the study.

Nielsen focuses on an area of consulting known as usability, examining how easy or difficult it is for Internet users -- in this case, children in grades one through five -- to navigate various web sites. By observing 55 children using sites for children, like and ABC News for Kids, as well as sites like Yahoo and, Nielsen and his co-author, Shuli Gilutz, found that children were just as likely to become frustrated by poorly designed web sites as adults were.

In general, the study found that if an activity on a web site was not immediately satisfying, young visitors moved on. Although children tend to like animation and sound effects more than adults do, they have been warned by parents not to download anything and so tend to skip a feature if it requires a special plug-in. Site designers also tend to overestimate children's language skills, the study found, often using complicated or vague words that prevent younger visitors from understanding the choices that are available.

Another difference among young Internet users from adults is that children click on ads more often -- apparently unable to distinguish them from content even when they are clearly marked.

Nielsen speculated that parents and teachers had not spent much time teaching children how to recognize advertisements on the web because adults have tuned them out. But the study found that children had been taught about privacy and been warned not to give out personal information online. "Which I think is the good news,'' Nielsen said, "because it shows that it's possible to educate children about the Internet.''