One of the best things about participating in the Internet Governance Forum is seeing the growing youth participation in sessions about their online protection. And one of the best things I’ve heard so far, after just 1.5 days of the IGF here in Istanbul this week came from Danish 15-year-old Olivia in a session about “Child Online Protection” where there was much discussion about technical, legal and parental control of children’s Internet experiences:
IGF 2014 participants Olivia (left) and Silke taking a media break (their sponsoring organization is Save the Children Denmark)
“This is our world, the Internet we’re talking about here. You have to be with us in the world. You can’t keep us away from it. You have to talk with us about it…. You have to help your children instead of trying to control them [emphasis hers].”
Safety takes practice
This was in response to the moderator asking for a teen participant’s perspective on the discussion up to that point. Olivia later told us of a friend whose 3rd-grade teacher – someone who was “qualified,” i.e., literate in the technology and media popular with her students at that time – led a discussion with her students about how they felt people should treat each other online. Her friend told her “there haven’t been any [cyberbullying] problems since” that discussion. Her point was, young people need and want thoughtful, caring guidance from informed adults, and that, not restriction, is what keeps youth safe – that as well as their own growing resilience and literacy, of course (see below for more on the literacy part). There hasn’t been enough discussion, much less acknowledgment, in online-safety circles about young people’s own skills in keeping themselves and peers safe in connected media.
“Safe” is what’s felt in a community of guided practice, whether it’s a family or a school (if children aren’t fortunate enough to have this at home, it needs to happen at school and in digital environments). This is sound, child-centered safety education: when students receive respectful guidance through facilitated discussion and opportunities to practice what they learn (in digital environments, where digital safety’s concerned), knowing that caring adults are there when backup’s needed. We need more communities of guided practice online too – that’s what children’s virtual worlds and online games need to be. Read more
From infancy on up we learn what’s right and wrong, based on our families’ and, later, peers’ values. That’s important. It develops that inner guidance system – or “moral compass,” as it’s sometimes called – that makes for safer, smoother navigation through life. But that isn’t all kids need as they grow and find their own way online and offline. In order to be safe, keep peers safe and make things right when they see something very wrong happening, they need solid information.
In a magazine article out of Australia, Nina Funnell and Dannielle Miller, authors of the new book Loveability: An Empowered Girl’s Guide to Dating and Relationships, give two graphic examples – one in Boston, the other in Adelaide – of how important it is for young people (and all people) to have accurate information, especially about sexual harassment and assault, in order to help each other stay safe at school, in public, on the mobile platform, etc. They wonder if the reason why some bystanders witnessed but did not report or stop an alleged sexual assault in these incidents was because some didn’t recognize it for what it was. They hadn’t been supplied with the information they needed to take action.
What makes people intervene
So here’s some basic information for parents and educators who want to enable peer support and protection among young people: The authors write, “According to research, the main factors which determine whether or not a person is likely to intervene in a situation such as a sexual assault include: Read more
It was a picture-perfect example of how a law intended to protect children can be used to victimize them. But the juvenile judge didn’t comment on the perversion of justice – or the prosecution’s victimization of a teenager by ordering police to photograph the boy’s genitals and threatening even more abusive treatment. He just eased the punishment meted out to the boy (his girlfriend was not charged) in this teen sexting case that was by all accounts consensual.
Although Judge George M. DePolo said he found “facts sufficient on both [felony child pornography] counts” to convict, the Washington Post reported, he “suspended imposition of any ruling for one year, placed the teen on probation, and ordered him to perform 100 hours of community service and have no access to text messaging or social media of any kind. Thankfully, he also said, “The defendant shall not be placed on the sex-offender registry or any similar lists.”
The boy’s attorney, Jessica Harbeson Foster, said, “This is a law to protect juveniles, not to prosecute them, not to create more harm,” according to the Post. But somehow Judge DePolo didn’t see it that way. He put nothing on record about the prosecution’s “outrageous abuse of power and … unfathomable violation of this kid’s privacy,” as Post blogger and author Radley Balko put it last month in a post entitled “We must destroy the children in order to save them” providing some case history on sexting by minors.
Internet safety is a basic right of Internet users. But it’s not the only one. There are other fundamental rights that Net users of all ages have, and I propose that Internet safety will actually serve all Internet users better – and have much more relevance to the younger ones in our homes and schools – when we put it in context, in a framework of online rights.
It’s a framework for all users’ rights that was actually established in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and it leaped out at me while reading a paper by social psychology professor Sonia Livingstone in London and media professor Brian O’Neill in Dublin about how the Internet interfaces with the UNCRC: “Children’s rights online: challenges, dilemmas and emerging directions” (pdf).
“The three Ps”
Safety is one of the UNCRC’s three core principles, or “three Ps”: “protection, provision and participation rights.” For the first 20-or-so years of the “Internet safety” discussion in most developed countries, the focus has largely been on the Protection rights. We parents and educators need to give equal weight to children’s Provision and Participation rights, and I believe that our efforts to teach children safe, effective use of connected media will have more authenticity for them when we do.