Youth and safety online

Online safety and issues of Cyber-citizenship are big issues in almost every discussion I participate in at the moment. Concerns about the behaviour of young people in open, social networking environments arise at every level – from early childhood through to tertiary.

Too often the responses made come from a position of fear and ignorance, with a dependence on rigid filtering and regimes of blocking sites considered inappropriate. While such actions are not necessarily inappropriate, they will achieve little in the long run without a comprehensive educative approach, focusing on the development of understandings and competencies that will ultimately equip the young people in our charge with the dispositions they require to make informed and appropriate choices for themselves – rather than depending on ‘someone else’ to make the decisions for them.

With this in mind I was interested today to read Adam Thierer’s post about the Online Safety and Technology Working Group (OSTWG) who have just released a final report to Congress entitled, “Youth Safety on a Living Internet.”

Thierer was a member of the 30-person working group, and says in his post…

Generally speaking, we concluded that there is no silver-bullet technical solution to online child safety concerns. Instead – and again in agreement with previous research and task force reports – we have concluded that a diverse toolbox and a “layered approach” must be brought to bear on these problems and concerns. Here’s how we put it in the report:

  • There’s no one-size-fits-all, once-and-for-all solution to providing children with every aspect of online child safety. Rather, it takes a comprehensive “toolbox” from which parents, educators, and other safety providers can choose tools appropriate to children’s developmental stages and life circumstances, as they grow. That toolbox needs to include safety education, “parental control” technologies such as filtering and monitoring, safety features on connected devices and in online services, media ratings, family and school policy, and government policy. In essence, any solution to online safety must be holistic in nature and multi-dimensional in breadth.
  • To youth, social media and technologies are not something extra added on to their lives; they’re embedded in their lives. Their offline and online lives have converged into one life. They are socializing in various environments, using various digital and real-life “tools,” from face-to-face gatherings to cell phones to social network sites, to name just a few.
  • Because the Internet is increasingly user-driven, with its “content” changing in real-time, users are increasingly stakeholders in their own well-being online. Their own behavior online can lead to a full range of experiences, from positive ones to victimization, pointing to the increasingly important role of safety education for children as well as their caregivers. The focus of future task forces therefore needs to be as much on protective education as on protective technology.
  • The Internet is, in effect, a “living thing,” its content a constantly changing reflection not only of a constantly changing humanity but also its individual and collective publications, productions, thoughts, behaviors, and sociality.

The whole report is worth a read. It includes a useful definition of youth online safety that includes four areas of focus;

  • Physical safety – freedom from physical harm
  • Psychological safety – freedom from cruelty, harassment, and exposure to potentially
    disturbing material
  • Reputational and legal safety – freedom from unwanted social, academic,
    professional, and legal consequences that could affect users for a lifetime
  • Identity, property, and community safety – freedom from theft of identity & property

The reports from the individual sub-committees provide an interesting insight into each of these, and an overview of the sorts of things we ought to be considering – rather than simply finding ourselves “reacting” to particular events or concerns.

The answer lies in education – with the appropriate use of preventative strategies where necessary.

3 thoughts on “Youth and safety online

  1. I completely agree with the idea that children need to be educated in order to learn how to be cybersafe and effective digital citizens. Not everyone involved in education shares this view, as you stated, and some prefer to block sites to keep children from accessing them. However, forbidding something can sometimes make it appear even more appealing and unfortunately if it is illicit children may be very reluctant to seek help from a teacher or parent if they fear repercussions. I am currently investigating Super Clubs Plus and am trying desperately to explain to others why supporting children to use social networking in a safe, supervised environment can help prepare them for the future.

  2. Excellent read. I think the intensity and speed of the social networking phenomenon, and the online environment on the whole, is causing more of a reaction, rather than a thoughtful approach. As mentioned though, this is something embedded in the lives of young people, not an add on. Thus, it is as natural to many of our youth as learning to pedal a bike. They are going to move forward with it regardless of our care or concern. Keeping the pathways running parallel to the support and guidance by teachers, (as numerous and mind-numbing as these may seem to us at times), is key to keeping them engaged in the most appropriate and ultimately meaningful content.

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