International Youth Day is August 12, 2017. This article is one of a series this week dedicated to how information and communication technologies (ICTs) can improve the lives of young people worldwide.
A decade ago, the world was witnessing a pivotal year – Apple had just released its first iPhone.
“We witnessed a major shift in which we have dealt with cyber security, trust and safety issues,” says Stephen Balkam, Founder and CEO of Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI), recalling the year of 2007 when FOSI was founded.
With the advent of ‘Web 2.0’, social networking and new devices, the world had “a situation where kids were not only accessing inappropriate content, but they were producing it themselves in the form of sexting, or acting out in behaviors like cyber bullying the way we hadn’t seen before… we started to see the beginnings of that,” Balkam told ITU News.
Fast forward to 2017 — the age of the smartphone — and issues of children’s online safety, including their access to inappropriate content, are now more important than ever, says Balkam, who currently serves on Facebook’s Safety Advisory Board and Twitter’s Trust and Safety Council.
ITU’s recently released ICT Facts and Figures 2017 report estimated more than 830 million young people from age 15 to 24 are online, which represents more than 80% of the youth population worldwide.
So, what are the implications for children in this digital age?
In the decade since 2007, we have experienced the widespread availability of more affordable mobile devices as well as the adoption of social networking as a way of life. Now nearly everyone can create, record and transmit content and information in a way that is unprecedented.
“The whole phenomenon of selfies as well as posting on Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat and so on has become a whole new line of communication that didn’t exist 10 years ago,” said Balkam.
“We are going to keep raising awareness of what this new world looks like in the way that we did 10 years ago when suddenly we had a world with Web 2.0 and mobile technologies that didn’t exist ten years before that.” – Stephen Balkam, Founder and CEO of Family Online Safety Institute
“Most of the times parents don’t necessarily know the capacity of these smartphones that they give to their children, which are in fact supercomputers that had more computing power than NASA had to put a man on the moon back in the 60s,” said Balkam.
So, how can parents safeguard kids from scams, cyber crime, online bullying and inappropriate content when they are not fully aware of the potential risks and harm?
The younger generation today are considered ‘digital natives.’ Children are often considered more tech-savvy than their parents and teachers. Research shows that 90% of children under age of 2 have moderate ability to use a tablet.
“Kids take to the new technology almost instinctively, [but] that doesn’t mean they make wise decisions about that,” said Balkam.
Parents should equip themselves with basic digital skills and be knowledgeable of the potential risks implied by new technologies by taking advantage of online resources and tools, says Balkam. For example, FOSI’s Seven Steps To Good Digital Parenting offers simple and practical tips for parents.
“Educating parents is our number one priority,” Balkam explains. “Kids do seem to know easily how to use the devices, how to download and utilize apps on their smartphones, while many parents don’t even know the names of the apps their kids are downloading.”
It is also important for parents to keep an open line of communication with kids, and be involved in their lives offline and online. For example, parents should be aware of their social media usage and behavior while respecting their personal space.
Promote moderate screen time in your household by setting ground rules on the timing and location of when kids can use their smartphones and digital devices. And just as importantly, parents should set an example for their kids by limiting their own screen time for family time, according to FOSI guidelines.
Learn more about ITU’s Child Online Protection (COP) initiative and take advantage of online tools and resources here.
FOSI is a member of ITU’s COP initiative, which works to create an international collaborative network and promote online safety for children around the world.
“We — the Internet industry, government, academics, researchers — we all have a part to play to reveal this new world to parents, in a way that doesn’t scare them but raises their awareness of what potentially could be problematic,” says Balkam.
By Nicole Jao (@nicole_i_jao), ITU News