Archived — Digital Literacy in Canada: From Inclusion to Transformation

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Submissions (continued)

Annex C: Eight Benefits of Digital Literacy

The benefits of digital technology touch every aspect of society and the economy; at the same time, there is no denying that technologies offer challenges alongside opportunities. Two of the principles for digital literacy — the skills to use digital media tools and the capacity to understand media content — support the critical thinking that's needed not only to maximize digital opportunities, but also to counter and manage digital risk.

The following topics or points outline some of these widely recognized benefits and assess where Canada stands in relation to them.

1. A digitally literate population is more innovative and creative.

The foundation of the new digital economy, or the knowledge economy, is creativity; and not surprisingly, the basic tools of creative individuals and businesses in this economy are digital. Economic benefit lies not only in the value of the products created but also in the jobs and vibrant culture that emerge from creative industries and creative people. Digital literacy is fundamental to the success of the new economy.Footnote 64

Kevin Lynch, former Clerk of the Privy Council, observes "innovation is a driver of productivity growth, creating the new products and processes that will allow Canadian business and workers to move up the value-added chain and compete on quality, service and uniqueness, not merely on cost." According to Lynch, adoption, production and development of ICT-related goods and services are the essential drivers of this evolution; and for both Canadian firms and citizens, digital literacy is the key to unlocking the productivity and innovation promised by ICT technologies.

One of the direct results of a proliferation of tools for digital media creation is the growth of a creative economy. "The Conference Board estimates that the economic footprint of Canada's culture sector was $84.6 billion in 2007, or 7.4 per cent of Canada's total real GDP, including direct, indirect and induced contributions. Culture sector employment exceeded 1.1 million jobs in 2007."Footnote 65 The creative industries are currently a significant part of our economy, and it is imperative for economic and cultural reasons that they remain so. A digitally literate population can take a global leadership role in creating the content and applications for this new economy and in creating a corresponding market. If digital literacy is not fostered and supported the likelihood of any new forms of media being produced in Canada will be severely hindered. Innovations such as Research in Motion's (RIM) Blackberry were made possible as a result of a small group of inventors and a much larger group of consumers. The dual benefit of digital literacy ensures there will be both creators and consumers for Canada's new economic reality.

While it is important for Canada to be proud of its past and present technology-industry success stories such as RIM, Newbridge and Open Text, it is also imperative to place economic value on creation beyond patent-centric or technology-driven invention. Many creative industries, such as film and interactive entertainment, do not produce new technologies or products but rather they produce content of real economic value.Footnote 66

2. Digital literacy increases ICT infrastructure development and use.

The most recent research from the World Bank notes that for every 10 per cent increase in broadband Internet connections there is a 1.3 per cent increase in economic growth.Footnote 67 This research finding serves as support and justification for continued investments in ICT infrastructure. But investments in infrastructure alone are not sufficient.

Most recent Internet usage numbers report that 80 per cent of Canadians use the Internet, and 92 per cent of these individuals use a high-speed Internet connection.Footnote 68 The International Telecommunications UnionFootnote 69 cites national broadband strategies as a key element of global development; yet even though most Canadians have access to a broadband connection, millions still choose not to use the Internet. The discrepancy between access and uptake needs to be examined in order to determine the social, economic and geographical factors contributing to this disparity.

The FCC's recent report to Congress, Broadband Adoption and Use in America, states that over 93 million Americans opt not to use broadband connections. The report observes that the majority of individuals who opted not to use broadband do not use the Internet at all and are at the higher age range. Twenty-two per cent of non-adopters cited digital literacy issues as the reason. Cost was the other major factor cited.Footnote 70

From the uptake issues observed in both Canada and the US, it is clear that a lack of digital literacy is a significant contributing factor to non-usage. Individuals will be motivated to sign up for broadband services or seek out public Internet access sites, only if they understand the value of such services/sites in enhancing their quality of life. It naturally follows that for the Canadian government to fully realize its investment in broadband infrastructure, it must also invest in digital literacy initiatives. The maximal GDP growth from broadband usage as documented by the World Bank will only occur once uptake is fully realized by the population; digital literacy is the key to making this happen.

3. Digital literacy promotes smart ICT adoption and increased productivity.

There is clear evidence that ICT adoption results in productivity increases in a variety of ways.Footnote 71

Robert Atkinson, in reference to the US economy, states, "IT has been the key factor responsible for reversing the 20 year productivity slowdown from the mid-1970's to the mid-1990's and in driving today's robust productivity growth."Footnote 72 Digital literacy, by extension, is an essential factor in realizing these increases in productivity.

The 2006 Canadian Telecommunications Policy Review Panel, Final Report concluded that while the weakness in ICT investment by Canadian businesses was a contributing factor to Canada's poor productivity performance and to the widening gap between our productivity and that of the United States, "investing in ICTs by itself is no guarantee of higher productivity." Referring to a growing body of microeconomics research in this area, the report went on to note that productivity gains result when ICT investment is accompanied by complementary investments in "smart ICT adoption" — that is, investments in organizational and workflow redesign, process re-engineering, and digital skills development.

Recommending that smart ICT adoption become a national priority, the report states that "smart adoption of ICTs is important beyond the business sector. It is important for government, public sector institutions and organizations, as well as civil society. It matters for the quality of life for individual Canadians and the communities in which they live."Footnote 73

Digital literacy, which is a core component of "smart ICT adoption," improves productivity in a very concrete way. A recent New Zealand Computer Society report estimates that increases in digital literacy result in increased worker efficiency of 1-3 hours per work week, depending on the type of work and the initial skill level. The authors of this report apply their findings to the population of New Zealand and conclude that digital literacy skills would result in a national productivity gain of $1.7B. Based on the average hourly wage of $20.16,Footnote 74 an application of these findings would suggest a very significant national productivity gain for Canada as well, amounting to an annual gain of nearly $1,600 per worker.Footnote 75

Canada is 8th in the world in worker productivity, and our productivity rate grew at a scant 0.8 per cent from 2000-2008.Footnote 76 Based on identifiable productivity gains resulting from smart ICT adoption, it is clear that digital literacy skill development must be a significant component of any initiative to increase Canada's productivity level.

4. A digitally literate population makes good organizational sense.

The value of understanding digital media content and applications goes beyond developing intellectual evaluation skills; it also extends to creating confidence in the market place. As the government and the corporate sector move more goods and services online, there are numerous reasons why it makes sense to support the development of digital literacy skills amongst citizens and consumers.

To start, responsible companies want to be associated with "best practices" regarding use of digital media, and support for digital literacy is evidence of corporate social responsibility. Government too, which is migrating many services online, stands equally to gain by ensuring that citizens can effectively access online services.

Unsophisticated and uninformed Internet users get themselves in all sorts of trouble that lands at the feet (or at the call centre) of the organization that the user perceives to be responsible. Digitally literate users know how to access services efficiently and conduct transactions effectively — and they know who to contact if problems arise and how to do so, resulting in reduced support costs.

Digitally literate consumers also know how to conduct business online in a secure manner and are more confident in using e-commerce, in downloading and sharing digital files, and in participating in online activities such as e-banking, e-government and e-health. With this in mind, part and parcel of developing informed and engaged e-consumers and users is helping them to manage and mitigate online risks such as viruses, spam, hoaxes, privacy invasions, and cyber-crime relating to identity theft or credit card fraud.

Recommendations from the 2005 report of the task force on spam, Stopping Spam: Creating a Stronger Safer Internet, recognized that one of the most effective ways to combat spam is through digital literacy skills development. The task force addressed the issue of 'spam literacy' with the Stop Spam Here campaign.

One more reason why digital literacy makes good organizational sense is that it supports quality digital media advertising. Responsible advertisers know that they have to maintain high standards to remain credible and they are hurt when consumers tune out or are turned off by advertising methods. Sophistication among Internet users as to source and trustworthiness of advertising has a direct bearing on digital media advertising, which in turn, has a direct bearing on maintaining freely accessible digital media undertakings that are supported by advertising dollars, resulting in increased advertising effectiveness.

And finally, a common argument from industry against consumer protection legislation is that consumers are able to look after themselves, but this depends on their having access to good information and the skills to use it to protect and advance their interests. Digital literacy therefore supports alternatives to regulation.

5. Digital literacy enables public participation.

The ability to create and distribute material rapidly and practically for free to almost anywhere in the world is the greatest innovation of the digital media era. In the past, media audiences were consumers only. Whatever was broadcast or published was what they received, with little opportunity to publicly respond to the authors or creators. With the advent of digital media, audiences have evolved to become active users who consume and create, receive and distribute. Ensuring that Canadians can contribute their perspectives, opinions and creative compositions in a variety of different media is becoming a social, democratic, and economic imperative.

The digitally literate citizen knows how to create and publish video and images, create and run a blog, share links to meaningful and innovative content, edit multimedia files and documents, build profiles appropriately on social networking sites and, most importantly, adapt and incorporate new communications technologies into daily life. The nature of technology is one of constant evolution, and it is the user who knows how to maximize the efficacy of digital tools that will be able to adapt.

Within the context of learning how to create digital media content and tools, we need to look beyond what is already here and turn our eyes to what is coming. Web 2.0 — the read/write, view/create Internet that is increasingly dominated by user-generated content — is now firmly established as a part of our lives. What will Web 3.0 bring?

We are clearly moving from a flat, two-dimensional Internet experience, whose basic metaphor is the "page" and whose most pervasive medium is text, to a progressively more immersive, three-dimensional experience of the web. As the Internet steadily evolves from a web of pages to a web of places and spaces, digital literacy programs will have to similarly evolve. We will need to develop the next-generational digital skills that will help us (and our avatars) navigate, communicate, evaluate and create within three-dimensional spaces and virtual realities. Moving from web pages to immersive multimedia and multi-sensory experiences, the digitally literate are comfortable with technological change and know how to adapt.

Closely related to participation, an understanding of digital media will also generate greater awareness of issues surrounding copyright.Footnote 77 A digitally literate individual has knowledge of copyright law, and a higher appreciation of how media content is produced. This knowledge provides individuals with the information to understand the impact of copyright infringement on the industry and artists and empowers them to make more informed decisions when it comes to intellectual property and copyright.

6. Digital literacy promotes economic and social inclusion.

There is no question that the demographic groups with the lowest levels of Internet usage are the ones that could potentially benefit the most from increased digital literacy.Footnote 78 Individuals with lower levels of education or the unemployed would greatly profit from the Internet as both a source of job listings and educational resources. Current gaps in digital literacy skills exist along socio-economic lines and efforts must be made to close these gaps in order to extend the benefits of digital media to these demographics.Footnote 79 This ensures that more individuals will have the confidence to use digital technologies and those that do use it will do so more effectively.

In 2009 graduate students and community activists from the Northwest Territories collaborated to develop Our North/Our Future: Talking Change, Security and Sustainability with Northern Youth, a project that provided young people with an opportunity to include their voice in discussions on the future of the North. As part of this program youth were trained on using video, photography and blogging to explore and share their thoughts on Northern life. Blogs created as part of this initiative continue to drive discussion and provide a forum for youth voices and perspectives.

Lack of digital skills increases the risk of furthering the isolation of those already dealing with issues of economic or social exclusion. This, in turn, has the potential to create a vicious cycle where digital exclusion perpetuates social and economic marginalization. For example, as digital media becomes an essential tool in job-hunting, lack of digital literacy itself becomes a driver of further exclusion.Footnote 80

Digital literacy provides citizens with the ability and understanding to access e-government services, e-health resources, and other online public services — and communicate back to government through them. Governments and public institutions can invest the money into building these programs, but as with investments in broadband infrastructure, the investments in e-government will be wasted if Canadian citizens do not understand and are not able, or willing, to use these services. Again, it is important to appreciate that those who are most in need of public services are individuals with the lowest levels of digital skills.

Digital media also provides new forms of accessibility for Canada's physically disabled citizens. It allows this segment of our population to engage and interact more fully with society, and more easily take advantage of public programs and government services. Digital media has the potential to be a great leveller that provides all citizens with new opportunities for employment and social and cultural participation in the wider community.Footnote 81

7. Digital literacy supports and promotes empowerment and engagement.

Canada is faced with a series of unique and challenging issues in supporting an advanced communications infrastructure that is accessible to our geographically and culturally diverse population. Canadians are spread out over a large landmass, we have two official languages, we have a rich multi-cultural heritage with a growing immigrant population, and we have many rural and indigenous communities.

By its nature, digital communications technology bridges physical distances, making it ideally suited for a country with the physical makeup of Canada. It makes knowledge transfer and social communications more affordable and efficient.

The most recent Statistics Canada Internet Usage Study observed a digital divide between rural and urban Canada: in communities with populations of 10,000 or less, 73 per cent of residents accessed the Internet, compared to 83 per cent of Canadians living in communities with more people. The Statistics Canada report suggests that the reasons for this discrepancy include socio-economic factors and broadband availability. Increasing broadband capacity and providing digital literacy resources in rural centers would help combat this divide and help to bridge the usage gap between rural and urban communities.Footnote 82

Creating a cohesive cultural ecosystem faces many barriers. Much has been done to connect the country with telephone and TV access but the digital era affords us new opportunities to further the cultural exchange and communication. In contrast to traditional media and telecommunications technology, digital media supports both interactive communications and user-generated cultural content creation. As a result, these tools are uniquely suited to effectively confront and deal with the geographical, social, and cultural communications challenges.

Skwxwú7mesh-Kwakwaka'wakw blogger Dustin Rivers uses his blog to inform his community on events and news happening on a political level within his nation. Dustin's blog fills an information gap in a community where no other form of media exists to share information or upcoming events or provide critique and analysis of local and national political decisions that affect them. He is also developing podcasts to help Squamish youth practice and maintain their language.Footnote 83

With the development and evolution of Web 2.0 — the read/write interactive Internet that has turned passive consumers in to active contributors — a noticeable increase in Internet usage in French-speaking Quebec has been observed.Footnote 84 A suggested explanation is that with the increasing ability of our citizens to create and share content, Quebec Internet users have contributed an increase in French language content and locally relevant material to the web.Footnote 85

Web 2.0 also helps sustain Canadian culture and content on the Internet. A digitally literate Canada will inevitably not only consume more media content, but also help to sustain a unique Canadian presence globally as citizens create cultural content on Canadian websites and in diverse Internet communities.

In January 2009, just months before its 70th anniversary, the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) launched the NFB Screening Room — an online portal designed to make its films more readily accessible to Canadians and viewers around the world.

One year later, the numbers of views at and its iPhone App provide an impressive example of Canadian culture online:

Total Film Views on (January 2009-January 2010)

  • 3.7 million total online film views since we launched a year ago
  • 2.2 million online film views in Canada (59% of views)
  • 1.5 million views International (not including Canada) on the web
  • Total international views: 1.45 million views
  • Total views: 3 768 628

Film Views on iPhone App (Since October 21, 2009)

  • 396,190 views on iPhone in Canada
  • 131,332 views on iPhone outside Canada
  • 527,522 Total film views on iPhone
  • Total number of apps downloaded: 171 271.Footnote 86

8. Digital literacy helps children and youth mitigate online risk.

Depth of understanding and awareness of potential online risks are the most effective ways to enhance e-safety. As user confidence increases with experience and understanding so does sensitivity toward privacy and other safety issues. Just as it's not possible to completely protect youth from dangers in the physical world, neither can we completely protect them in the digital world. Thus, in the same way that we teach youth how to recognize, deal with and mitigate offline threats, a similar approach can be taken in relation to digital threats. In a special report commissioned by the British Prime Minister's Office targeted at protecting children in a digital world, author Dr. Tanya Byron recommends that one of the strategies to promote the e-safety of children is to "broaden and deepen their skills, knowledge and understanding to use new technology."Footnote 87

This sentiment also holds true for parents, many of whom feel ill-equipped to help their children in their online explorations. Digital literacy skills can bridge this generation gap by providing parents with a better understanding of their children's online activities so they can work with them to develop awareness guidelines — instead of attempting to stifle or censor them. Research indicates that young people whose parents are both actively and positively involved in their online activities exhibit the lowest levels of risky behaviour online.Footnote 88

In addition to vulnerability to online scams, viruses and spam, young people face safety and privacy risks relating to social interactions on widely popular websites such as Facebook, MySpace, LiveJournal and Twitter. At a recent conference held by the McArthur Foundation's Digital Media and Learning Initiative, researchers noted that although much online activity on the part of young people is benign and prosocial — for the most part simple chatter — new forms of communicating between peers can at times be risky and risqué.Footnote 89 Attendees acknowledged that certain features of online communication may lower an individual's inhibitions, and because of the immediacy, uncontrollable viral dispersion, and permanence of digital imprints, there are significant risks of youth making lasting social mistakes.Footnote 90 Attendees agreed that in order to mitigate online risks, youth would benefit from greater support in helping them make responsible decisions online.Footnote 91

A number of surveys of college students using social networking sites indicate that while young people are aware of privacy issues associated with using such online services, they generally do not take action to protect private information.Footnote 92 Indeed, most adults are concerned by the seemingly offhand attitude many young people take towards divulging potentially damaging personal information on the Internet.

Yet, despite this apparent cavalier approach towards online privacy, students do want to learn more about controlling who has access to their personal information. In Young Canadians in a Wired World research conducted by Media Awareness Network in 2005, two-thirds of students expressed a desire to learn how to protect their privacy online (66%) in school, with interest highest among children in Grades 4 to 6 (75%).Footnote 93

A more recent study of 18-24-year-olds notes that, rather than a lack of concern; it is a lack of knowledge, coupled with an online environment that encourages people to share personal information that is at the heart of this problem.Footnote 94 These privacy risks argue strongly for digital literacy programs that go beyond teaching basic computer and Internet skills; only by instilling a depth of understanding and critical evaluation skills in students of all ages, will these risks be mitigated.Footnote 95

Annex D: Digital Literacy Attitudinal Archetypes

The Report of the Digital Britain Media Literacy Working Group identifies a series of attitudinal archetypes in relation to digital media and argues that understanding these different attitude types helps in developing strategies to strengthen literacy levels. Footnote 96 Different attitude types are identifiable at various stages of literacy and as such require resources suited to their needs. The attitudinal segments identified in the Digital Britain report include the following: Engaged, Economisers, Pragmatists, Hesitants and Resistors. In order to simplify this discussion, we will focus primarily on the three main segments: Engaged, Hesitants and Resistors.

The gaps in attitudes toward digital media are often related to age, with Resistors being the oldest segment of the population and Engaged, the youngest.

Figure 4
Image of Figure 4
  • The Engaged — especially adolescents and teens — have the strongest relationship with digital media: they are heavy users of the technology and are enthusiastic about how it fits into their lives. Engaged have the potential to add the most economic value, functioning comfortably as both creators and consumers of digital content, tools and interaction. This may be a more economically viable group to target with digital literacy initiatives, as they are easy to reach through school curriculum.

    These users usually have basic "use" skills, but may lack life experience and maturity — making them vulnerable to potential risks and privacy issues. Increased literacy, in the form of critical evaluation, awareness of risks, and ability to create, is most important for this group.

  • The Hesitants are in the mid-age range between Engaged and Resistors, with 53 per cent between the ages of 35 and 64. Hesitants are aware that they are not getting the most out of technology but at the same time tend to dismiss the potential benefits. A Hesitant could be characterized as someone who uses e-mail when necessary for work but is not comfortable experimenting with new forms of digital media beyond the bare minimum needed to complete a specific, practical task. This attitude is often due to a lack of confidence in using digital tools, and a lack of awareness of the benefits.

    Hesitants are the most likely to profit from digital literacy support. Literacy initiatives for this segment should focus on all three elements of digital literacy, from basic use through critical evaluation to creation.

    Another important consideration with this group is that the younger range of Hesitants — ages 35-45 — is likely to include parents of children who may be outpacing them in Internet use. There is no doubt that adults want to be involved in guiding their children's online explorations: in a 2005 survey conducted by Ipsos Reid for Media Awareness Network, 91 per cent of parents interviewed believed themselves to be most responsible for teaching young people to think critically and make good decisions about popular media including the Internet. If "Hesitant" parents are to successfully do this, they need digital literacy skills of their own and the confidence and proficiency in digital technology to effectively guide their children.Footnote 97

  • The Resistors, mainly those over the age of 65, display little or no interest in changing their relationship to technology and do not see the value of incorporating digital media into their lives. They believe that the risks, costs and nuisance factors far outweigh the benefits. A successful digital literacy campaign for this segment has first to provide a convincing value proposition that presents compelling reasons for them to become interested in using digital media technologies.

    It is important to identify and differentiate Resistors who appear to be resisting technology adoption due to economic factors. Literacy initiatives for this segment must not only promote the benefits of digital literacy but also provide the public resources to make access to digital technologies more affordable.


  1. 64 Report of the Digital British Media Literacy Working Group. Section 3.32 (Back to reference 64)
  2. 65 The Conference Board of Canada (Back to reference 65)
  3. 66 Department for Culture, Media and sport. Creative Britain new Talents for the New Economy, p. 37. (Back to reference 66)
  4. 67 World Bank. Information and Communications Technology Issue Brief. (September 2009). (Back to reference 67)
  5. 68 Statistics Canada Internet Usage Report (May 2010). (Back to reference 68)
  6. 69 (Back to reference 69)
  7. 70 Broadband Adoption and Use In America p. 5, see also National Broadband Plan Connecting America Section 9. (Back to reference 70)
  8. 71 Ibid. p. 2. (Back to reference 71)
  9. 72 Ibid. p. 10. (Back to reference 72)
  10. 73 Canadian Telecommunications Policy Review Panel, Final Report. (2006), Chapter 7 pp 12-13. (Back to reference 73)
  11. 74 Statistics Canada (Back to reference 74)
  12. 75 Bunker, Beverly. A Summary of International Reports, Research, and Case Studies of Digital Literacy. (2010), p. 7. (Back to reference 75)
  13. 76 Lynch, Kevin. "Canada's Productivity Trap". The Global & Mail. (January 2010). (Back to reference 76)
  14. 77 Report of the digital Britain Media Literacy Working Group. (March 2009), Section G.1. (Back to reference 77)
  15. 78 Statistics Canada. Internet Usage Study. (June 2008). (Back to reference 78)
  16. 79 Ibid. (Back to reference 79)
  17. 80 Broadband Adoption in Low-Income Communities (March 2010), p. 6. (Back to reference 80)
  18. 81 Bunker, Beverly. A Summary of International Reports, Research, Case Studies on Digital Literacy. (2010), p. 34. (Back to reference 81)
  19. 82 Statistics Canada Internet Usage Survey (2009). (Back to reference 82)
  20. 83 and (Back to reference 83)
  21. 84 Larry McKeown of Statistics Canada. Phone interview. January 14, 2010. (Back to reference 84)
  22. 85 "Locally and personally relevant content can be a key driver to inspiring and empowering people to explore and enjoy the digital world. " Report of the Digital Britain Media Literacy Working Group Section A.2. (Back to reference 85)
  23. 86 Source: NFB Blog. (Back to reference 86)
  24. 87 Safer Children In A Digital World, The Report of the Byron Review. (March 2008), p. 110. (Back to reference 87)
  25. 88 Rosen, L.D., (2008). "The association of parenting style and child age with parental limit setting and adolescent MySpace behavior." Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 29, 459-471. Media Awareness Network, Young Canadians in a Wired World: Phase Il, research study. (Back to reference 88)
  26. 89 See, for example, Danah Boyd (2008) who argues that in social networking sites teens are mirroring dynamics of socialibility formerly confined to shopping malls and parking lots. (Back to reference 89)
  27. 90 Have the Digital Media Changed American Youth? Insights from a MacArthur-Sponsored Convening of Researchers. (December 2009), p. 2. (Back to reference 90)
  28. 91 Ibid. p. 3. (Back to reference 91)
  29. 92 Govani, Tabreez and Pashley, Harrier. Student Awareness of the Privacy Implications When Using Facebook, Section 5.3. (Back to reference 92)
  30. 93 Media Awareness Network (2005). Young Canadians in a Wired World: Phase Il. (Back to reference 93)
  31. 94 Associated Press. April 15, 2010. "Study: Young adults do care about online privacy." (Back to reference 94)
  32. 95 The FCC report on Broadband Adoption and Usage in America documents that non-adopters are 50 per cent more likely than broadband users to believe it is too easy for personal information to be stolen online. It is evident that with greater use comes greater understanding. p. 4. (Back to reference 95)
  33. 96 Section 5.6. An alternative attitudinal breakdown used by the FCC in the report on Broadband Adoption and Use in America (pg. 6) is Digitally Distant, Digital Hopefuls, Digitally Uncomfortable, Near Converts. The age and types of barriers to adoption are similar to the categories and analysis we use above. (Back to reference 96)
  34. 97 Media Awareness Network (2005). Survey of Parents. (Back to reference 97)