Digital Youth Wales

Preparing, Inspiring and Supporting Young People in a Digital World

(Part 6) Personal highlights: stats and safety

Internet - Good Or Bad?I, as many other delegates must have done, first attended the WISE KIDS-WISP conference expecting it to be mainly about internet safety.

A pivotal part of the dicussions did revolve around online safety. But the general consensus was that a safe web environment is only the groundwork, the basic foundation on top of which innovation and inspiration create building blocks.

I will take you through some of the innovators' talks in my blog part 7.

Still, in a web-centric world, safety is a big issue for young people, especially, as Tanya Byron said, their future is digital.

The YPDW2010 conference was an opportunity to learn:
a) what government agencies are doing to ensure safety controls.
b) stats about young people's internet literacy and how parents/schools are managing it (or not).
c) how e-safety moderators operate and what they know about online behaviours.

The baddy catchers
The media is awash with ominous stories of young girls going missing from their homes because they went to meet a stranger, who approached them on a chat site, children taking their own lives because they were cyberbullied and so on. It is every parent's worst nightmare. If I were to pay attention to each horror story in the press, I could not allow a child of mine anywhere within a mile of a computer.

Helen Penn
from law enforcement agency CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection) showed a three-minute video at the beginning of her presentation (at 2:17min), promoting CEOP's work protecting children and young people from sexual exploitation and abuse. The images of police officers arresting child abusers, scenes of battered dolls found under trees and faces of terror-stricken children were uncomfortable to watch, but it was a good reminder that children are vulnerable in the real world as much as they are online.

CEOP also does preventative work, for instance, stopping potential cyberbaddies from approaching your children, well before things get out of control. Their report button (above, right) is ubiquitous across the world, and CEOP receives around 420 reports a month.

To find out more about what the UK's one-stop shop for Internet safety information has got in the pipeline, you can read further about CEOP's programmes and new resources launched around Internet Safety Day on 9th February, or watch social reporter Eleri's video interview with Helen Penn.

The stats
The communications industry's independent regulator Ofcom was represented by Fiona Lennox in Swansea and Karen Roberts in Bangor. Interesting statistics taken out of Ofcom's 2009 interim report on UK children's media literacy were presented, showing more children now use Internet at home, quite a few not in the presence of their parents. A few parents still didn't use filters at home or didn't know how to. But 80% of parents had rules for their children's Internet usage. For the big picture of the current state of media literacy in the UK and Wales, Fiona's slides, which will be available on this site shortly, are worth a browse.

If you are an educator, you will be interested in hearing what Ruth Hammond from Becta, the government agency responsible for ICT, had to say about processes schools and other organisations working with young people need to put in place to empower and safeguard young people. Ruth Hammond said a study conducted with 3,348 young people in East Midlands revealed that 87% of them had received some form of e-safety education at school and 67% from their parents; 43% said they implemented what they'd learned but, worryingly 12% didn't really or never followed these guidelines. There is plenty of room for education, but not just for children. All school staff and educators need to learn how to encourage young people to keep themselves safe.

The e-police

I was particularly fascinated by presentations from community management and content moderation experts Tamara Littleton, CEO of eModeration, and Rebecca Newton, Mind Candy Inc, creators of Moshi Monsters. In the world of online moderators psychology meets technology. They talked about online behaviours that need to be monitored, what type of behaviours trigger alarm bells and which don't warrant a push of the panic button.

Some facts I learned from Rebecca's presentation, who has been working with children online since 1993:
  • 1.83 million households in the UK have access to the Internet.
  • 63% of UK children use the Internet hidden from their parents
  • 46% have given away some kind of personal information online
  • Asking "Who are you?", "Which school do you study at" or "Where are you from?" are common questions young children ask when they first meet someone virtually, and are not necessarily considered by moderators as suspicious behaviour.
  • Actual paedophiles groom children over periods of months and years and do not tend to ask direct questions like that.
With the escalating number of young online users, live moderators need to be used alongside behaviour management technology, but in 20 years Rebecca has known only six reported cases that ended up in court, which is an incredibly reassuring low rate. My favourite quote:

"There's no evil behind every virtual bush."

Despite having witnessed several cases of abusive behaviour, such as cyberbullying, cybersex from ages 11/12 upwards and scamming/account stealing, when she was running Habbo Hotels in 24 countries, Rebecca's view is that there are as many risks off-line as there are on-line but media sensationalism can sometimes give us a very warped picture.

I recorded her answer in a video interview:

Our responsibility
As a journalist, her comment made me reflect on the huge role the media plays in shaping our view of the world we and our children live in.

Tanya Byron's words, "We are raising children in captivity." is still stuck in my mind. Rebecca says children and young people use the internet to communicate, learn, socialise and create. But they also misbehave. Professor Byron would say misbehaving is part of childhood, and I agree they need room for experimentation. As adults we ought to give them some leeway. How else will they learn?

I suppose the lesson to be taken from this conference is exactly what it proposed to do: our duty is to prepare, support and inspire young people as best we can, not randomly block them from online environments out of fear.

As Ysgol Preseli's pupils said in their dramatised performance, young people are racing full speed to the future. The pace is fast. Very fast. Can we keep up?

Read my next and last blog post in this series for a glimpse of how some innovative and inspirational tools are being used to educate the next generation.

Main photo by Mikey G Ottawa

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