Schools around the world have been taking part in ‘Safer Internet Day’ recently and hoping to work “Together for a Better Internet” – this year’s global theme.
In the UK, organisers also asked participants to look at the theme of ‘Exploring Identity Online’.
I’ve been thinking about what that does and should mean to us in 2020 – both to teachers, to parents and to children? I believe that we need to strike a balance between safety and protection while retaining and capitalising on the educational benefits of the web.
This is particularly the case when figures released only this month by Ofcom showed that fewer and fewer UK parents believe the benefits of being online outweigh the disadvantages: only 55% do compared to 2015, when two-thirds of parents with children aged 5-15 felt the benefit outweighed the risk. Clearly, parents are becoming increasingly concerned about their children’s safety on the Internet.
In its annual Media Lives: Making Sense of Media – Children’s Media Use and Attitudes report, Ofcom also found unsurprisingly that our children are more connected than ever at younger and younger ages.
Half of all ten year olds now own a smartphone, use of smart speakers in the 5-15 age group has doubled and on-demand consumption has spiralled.
In the 3-4 year old age bracket, a quarter (24%) now have their own tablet, rising to 37% among 5-7 year olds and half of 8-11 year olds (49%).
With rising parental anxiety and younger and younger children now online for longer, it is clearly a time to talk to children in and out of school about their use of the internet and how to stay safe on it. It is also a time to reflect on internet use, our own and our children’s and how this has developed and will develop. Children tend to mirror our habits. If they see us continually on the internet and using our phones, it is harder for us to stop them from doing the same!
Not so long ago, we were all digital immigrants: developments in technology came perhaps in late childhood or early adulthood depending on our age. Tablets were something we took when we were ill rather than today’s gadget of choice and the “i generation” was a thing of the future. It is hard to believe the iPhone was only launched in 2007 so under 10s in this country are really the first generation to grow up with the iPhone and other smartphones.
The children we teach at The Mulberry House School today were born into this ‘smart’ generation. They truly are digital natives. In their world, mobile phones and tablets are as ubiquitous as televisions and radios were to us. It is their normal.
And yet, as adults, we know that the effects of much of the technology they were born into and which is developing faster than ever before during their childhoods and lifetimes, is relatively untested.
Creating a better internet means not only guiding them against the dangers we do know about on the internet such as stranger danger, inappropriate content and in app purchases but also considering the effects on their developing brains.
It is about balancing internet use in their lives so it does become their reality but part of their lives which they know how to handle.
The nature of 21st Century technology means that we need to educate younger and younger children about how to use the internet safely. How do we do this?
At school, we use “Smartie the Penguin” as our online mascot to help guide very young children through the dangers of the internet in a fun and easy to understand way. Smartie was developed by Childnet International, one of the organisations behind Safer Internet Day in the UK. Childnet is in an excellent site for teachers and parents and children, offering internet safety resources for teachers, advice for parents and carers and tips and safety information and even games for children.
I also recommend parents take a look at saferinternet.org.uk which is a site full of useful advice and information on internet safety and includes specific information for the age group we educate.
In school, we have been talking to children about their online identity: how they see others and how they see themselves online and about the importance of being kind to each other online. This happened not only on Safer Internet Day but we are using the day as a springboard to discuss these topics throughout the year.
I believe we have the opportunity to make this connected generation become the first to really take responsibility for how they behave online and how they treat others and help to make the internet a kinder and safer space. If Safer Internet Day helps us to achieve that, I look forward to it being celebrated for many years to come.