Children and young people in all parts of the world now access the internet using a broad range of devices. Several of these devices are highly portable and it is therefore no longer practical to rely solely on a parent or teacher being able to support or supervise a child’s or a young person’s internet usage at all times. Moreover as children and young people start to grow up, as their capacities evolve and they go through different phases of their life so their need for support and supervision from a parent or a teacher will change.
Very little in life is ever 100% safe or certain 100% of the time. The internet is most definitely no exception. The technology continues to develop and change. When formulating programmes which address children’s and young people’s safe use of the internet it is therefore crucial to stay up to date as we strive constantly to make the experience of going online safer and better. This can be done in two main ways.
At a technical level all possible reasonable steps should be taken to protect children and young people from age inappropriate and illegal content and age inappropriate contacts with third parties, whether these be human beings, commercial enterprises or other types of organizations.
Of equal importance is the provision of educational and awareness initiatives.
These need to reach out to children and young people to help them understand safe online behaviour in order to reduce the risk of them coming to harm, to know how to identify and get out of risky situations and how to seek help. Integrating internet safety awareness into the school curriculum is hugely important. Ideally it will be crafted as part of a wider digital literacy initiative which focuses on children’s empowerment and their role as citizens in the internet age.
Online educational and awareness initiatives, while dealing appropriately with safety issues, always need to be couched more broadly in positive language which emphasises the enormous benefits of the internet. The internet is, among many other things, a powerful educational resource and cultural channel, a research tool and communications aid for many different types of communities as well as being a major source of entertainment. It also enables children and young people to connect with each other and with family across the globe, to connect to important information about their health, potential careers and other issues of interest to them, to discover or learn more about their rights and how to claim or assert them.
The third leg of a comprehensive educational and awareness programmes needs to be directed towards parents, teachers and others who work professionally with children and young people to help them understand how children interact with technology so they, in turn, can help and support children and young people in their use of it.