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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Safer Internet Day: Wrong to focus on 5-to-7-year-olds?

I was surprised by the surprise in the voice of a newspaper reporter interviewing me last week, when he asked me to repeat a point about how a youth police officer I know started talking with 4th-graders about online safety. Well, today – the European Union's Safer Internet Day – the UK's awareness campaign is aimed at 5-to-7-year-olds (see The Guardian's coverage). Wouldn't the reporter be surprised about that?! I actually think new-media literacy and mindfulness about how they (we all) treat one another online and offline should be taught to children from the moment they start playing with digital devices. And I'm certainly not alone – I heard many statements to that effect at the Safer Internet Forum in Luxembourg last October (see this).

Yet, Ian Douglas at The Telegraph is saying "Safer Internet day is pitching too young" and says parents need to be the primary audience. Absolutely, they're paramount. But I think there is no primary audience. Safety on the fixed and mobile, user-driven social Web is a multi-stakeholder proposition. Just as the only logical solution to bullying/cyberbullying (there is great overlap between the two) is a whole-school-community one, the same goes for youth safety at the societal level. Everybody's teaching and learning in this multi-directional new media environment, everybody has a say in their own, their friends', and their community's well-being, online and offline piece of the solution: user, family, school, caregivers, teachers, industry, government. And yes, Douglas is right that it's not for young children if Net-safety messaging defaults to the old predator-focused, fear-based, research-ignoring fare we've hopefully moved past. He's wrong if online/offline citizenship and mindfulness are the content of safety education. Meanwhile, two-thirds of 14,000 European children surveyed said their parents "do nothing to encourage them to be safe online," according to a new Microsoft survey cited in the Irish Times. [Here's much more Safer Internet Day coverage. See also "Online Safety 3.0: Empowering & Protecting Youth." I'll be blogging more about the school part of the equation soon.]

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Anonymous Ian Douglas said...


Thanks for picking up on my post. While I agree absolutely that good practice for online citizenship is exactly what should be taught to children, I disagree that it is down to publicity campaigns to teach them. In my post I was echoing the excellent Byron report of 2008, Safer Children in a Digital World, which placed the role of educating children squarely with the parents, and only the role of educating parents with the state.

2:10 AM  
Blogger Anne said...

Thanks for your comment, Ian. I certainly don't feel it is up to publicity campaigns to educate young people! It's a whole-school-community proposition, and by "school community," I mean parents, teachers, administrators, etc. School is an important locus because youth spend so much of their time there. Certainly government can help by encouraging all to be involved in that educating, promoting best practice, and getting the messaging right (an area where your gov't has done a creditable job). We adults are way too compartmentalized in our thinking about youth safety online and offline. But don't get me started. BTW, "digital citizenship" isn't just nice, it's serious primary Net-safety ed for children, since the research shows that cyberbullying is by far the most salient online risk, and children who engage in aggressive behavior online are more than twice as likely to be victimized. Email me via anne[at] if you want any references. I enjoyed being on a panel with Tanya Byron in DC last fall, but she's a tough act to follow!

9:13 AM  

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