The following came through on a newswire, based upon a survey by the UK Safer Internet Centre (organisation behind Safer Internet Day), and I looked forward to chatting to Paul Hammond again, on this topic (and here’s some of the thoughts I prepared):
Research conducted to coincide with the annual safer internet day reveals that just under half of British children are scared to use the internet, worried about online bullying or strangers asking them to do things they’d be uncomfortable with. A third of children say they have regretted posting something online because it may negatively affect one of their friends.
As always when such negative results come back, I really would like to know what the wording on the surveys is? I was at a government policy event last week, and was disappointed that the questions asked of children by a House of Lords survey seemed to be along the lines of “are you addicted to the internet?” (very leading question!),although the general tone by most organisations, such as the NSPCC, is to speak a lot more positively about the digital, although many deal with a lot of the particularly negative aspects of it (as do the police, who are often brought in to speak on e-safety).
The newswire ties in very well with the standard media narrative, and much of the publishing narrative, that life (especially online) is dangerous and must be managed and controlled! Tie this in with ideas that have developed over the last few decades that children need ‘protecting’ from so many different ‘dangers’, and it’s no wonder that people are fearful of the internet, especially in relation to vulnerable users such as children. Children’s lives seem to have been restricted in so many ways over recent years – I was chatting with Vicki Shotbolt from Parentzone last week, and we were discussing ‘unintended consequences’ of policy or cultural change … including the increasing fears for children outside, which has led to children been kept inside. They are not going online and ignoring the physical world, they are engaging online, because it’s a ‘free space to visit’ when the physical world is off-limits. With many parents still limited in digital literacy and digital confidence, and seeing the digital as a ‘special/separate’ space, there are still fears about engaging with children on it (surprisingly, even for those who have grown up within a digital culture). The digital is now embedded into digital life – it is part of life, it is real, although the environment does have it’s own particularities that we need to work within (as you might need to if you visited a foreign culture!).
Digital culture largely refers to what is now everyday life – much of our life is controlled by 0 and 1s, delivered through human-managed algorithms (AI is a whole another topic of debate) – but we have to remember that we still retain our humanity (are humans largely unchanged over the last 2000+ years?). Essentially digital culture is about the relation between humans and technology – and the things that it has ‘normalised’. My focus is largely on the positive possibilities of the digital, but we certainly need to be rigorously investigating and questioning what has become ‘the everyday’ and has in many places, not been challenged! We have moved from a print culture to a broadcast culture, to a digital (increasingly interactive) culture. The internet sprung from hippy culture and that has shaped some of it’s etiquette/norms, but it’s now become very corporate, and this has raised more questions for many…. including the hot topic of ‘sharenting’, about which I wrote yesterday.
Image has been a powerful for centuries – my PhD partly drew on the notion that ‘a picture speaks 1,000 words’, as it investigated the underlying beliefs (or discourses, within Foucauldian discourse analysis) behind the images used in home front propaganda posters in the Second World War in Britain. Images can tell us so much about the society within which they are produced, shared and reacted to – the depictions, the responses, and highlighting our concerns. As with all technologies, the power of the image is influenced by what is made possible (through technology, economics, regulation, etc.) – the visual has become so ‘cheap’ and easy to capture, edit and share – and there are many fears about the ‘curated self’ (or as I referred to it in a past presentation – the photoshopped self), but this tells us more about what culture is prepared to accept, endorse or encourage than the technology itself (remember Betamax was better than VHS technologically, but VHS had a better marketing strategy). Some things stay the same, some things change – “continuity and change” = the bedrocks of history. Selfies have become ubiquitous, but they have their equivalent in history – although the ‘need for likes’ may be something a little new!
Body image is one concern of mine (see Beyond Chocolate), and sometimes it feels that it’s impossible to change ‘the representation of the normal’ which is slim, white, young, blue-eyed, blonde, etc. As Barker & Jane, Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice, 2016 highlight – we can challenge these images with new representations, but we are working against a much larger power-imbalance than solely the digital. In each small action, however, we are challenging the noam, and highlighting what is invisible (as discourse analysis of the posters did – e.g. in VD campaigns, the audience was assumed to be heterosexual – mind you homosexuality was illegal back then).
Images give children options for communication, self-expression and creativity (including global connectivity), but there can be pressures (for perfection, for curation), are risks (to reputation), and negative consequences (in giving away too much data – remember ‘Careless Talk Costs Lives’ – how small pieces of information can be patched together) but we need to remember that LIFE IS NOT RISK-FREE, and parents, carers and other important adults/older peers need to be in/best the spaces with children, and ensure the conversational lifelines are kept open. I often say that you wouldn’t throw a child into a pool without support (tech support and parental support), nor would you let them roam the local park on their own – these are comparative with those situations – and you need to understand both the opportunities, and be aware of the risks – this was why I wrote Raising Children in a Digital Age to give parents/grandparents/youthworkers/extended family/teachers confidence to engage and talk about the digital with their children, so that all can have a more positive experience!
MY CORE ADVICE: THINK BEFORE YOU POST, BUT DO POST!
To recap on my ‘Top 10 Tips’:
- The internet is not a wild west, free from the norms of contemporary culture. Children don’t know it all! Recognise potential scams, and look out for positive applications.
- Know how to use your privacy settings, and ensure that your children do this too! Regularly check.
- Be aware that the age for most social media sites is 13+, when psychologists agree that children as ‘ready’ for the type of social interactions online. If you are letting children online earlier, what does this say about respect for rules? Be aware that Lego have just released an app for children, which is designed for a younger age group – check it out!
- As a family, pull together an internet safety agreement (appropriate for different ages). Ensure the communication lines are open, so that you are the first place a child turns to, not a stranger on the internet.
- Don’t share so many fragments of information that you establish a regular routine discernible to others.
- The internet can be both temporary and permanent – check before you press that SEND button.
- Don’t share passwords – even with people you think you will be friends with forever. Change passwords frequently.
- Cyberbullying is not a rite of passage, either as the bully or the bullied. Take it seriously and try and catch it early.
- Illegal apps are more likely to download viruses, etc. to your devices than anything else – a far bigger risk than so-called ‘stranger danger’!
- Think about the role model that you set for children! Remember the internet is not a babysitter. Look for opportunities such as PokemonGo and Geocaching which mix the online/offline in adventures!
You should be able to listen to the show later – and here’s the specific extract: