This year the theme of Safer Internet Day (7th February) is, ‘Want to talk about it? Making space for conversations about life online’ with a focus on listening to children’s voices in order to make their online experience better and safer.
As I write this, I am the father of two children. One can barely talk yet, and the other is in year one, having just turned 5. I must admit I have never thought to ask my 5-year-old what her experience is of the online world.
Granted, at her age, I have much control over what she can and cannot view on YouTube and, as parents with my wife, we vet what she watches quite strictly.
However, the truth is she is growing up more quickly than we would like to think and no doubt life for her is a lot different from when I was growing up as a 5-year-old.
Recent research from Ofcom in 2022 showed that 99% of young people are accessing some form of online platform, with the majority of that being through a mobile phone (1).
When I was growing up, let alone when I was in primary school, the TV was all we had to influence us beyond our family and friends. So, if our parents did not like what we were watching, or who was influencing or had access to us, it was easy to remove those influences by just switching the TV off!
In today’s world, removing access to the internet and online platforms is not so straightforward. Access is everywhere and, unless some cataclysmic event of great proportion happens, it is safe to say the internet is here to stay and will only continue to grow in its influence in everyday life.
I have recently changed my view on the online world. I no longer see it as a net negative for young people but as a place where, if we equip our young people with the right critical tools of engagement, they will be able to more safely navigate the online world and get the best out of it.
I think that first starts by listening to the young people and hearing about their experiences online, which will enable us adults to better meet their needs.
Of course, governments and big social media platforms have a responsibility to make the necessary changes needed to protect our young people online, however, as we have witnessed such changes take a long time to come.
In the meantime, our response should be to listen to the experiences of young people and help them to have the best experience online possible. Could you purpose to listen to a young person this week?