Tuesday 9th February 2016 is Safer Internet Day, a global event first held in 2004, seeking to promote the safe, responsible and positive use of digital technology for children and young people, with a theme this year of ‘Play your part for a better internet!’
I wrote Raising Children in a Digital Age in 2014 to encourage people to look beyond the many negative representations of young people and social media, and consider the opportunities to create a better, more positive, Internet experience for everyone, but particularly young people. Education in this area, for children, parents, and others involved in ‘raising children’, including teachers and youth workers, is far more important than shutting conversations down.
For many with responsibility for children, there is a certain amount of fear attached to the idea that children ‘know’ how to use the internet, that they ‘speak a different language’ and therefore we can’t interfere. Terms that have been coined, such as ‘digital natives’ or ‘net generation’, all perpetuate this idea that every child knows what they are doing online by reason of their age. A more useful idea has developed from a team at Oxford University: that of the “digital resident” and the “digital visitor”, defined more by attitude than by age. “Visitors” use the internet as a tool: go in to complete a task, and leave. “Residents” regard themselves as members of communities that exist online, rather than having access to an online toolbox. I am most definitely a digital resident, though I’m far too old to be a ‘digital native’, but the digital, as Martha Lane Fox quoted in the Dimbleby Lecture in 2015, is not optional: “It’s not OK not to understand the Internet anymore”.
The Internet in general offers access to a wide range of viewpoints, with opportunities to learn to distinguish between good and bad content, to make choices about what to engage in, developing “digital literacy” – a core skill in the Twenty-First Century. Peer pressure and bullying in particular can be challenged when families or groups use stories raised through digital media, allowing young people to identify and live out their core values, online and offline.
This morning, a brief mention appeared in February’s Youthwork magazine: