We speak to Childnet's Will Gardner about this year's Safer Internet Day, and how we can all learn to use the web more safely and securely...

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Today is Safer Internet Day! Now in its 12th year, the global event aims to help kids, parents, teachers and some of the world’s biggest companies get talking about what it means to stay safe and have fun online.

2015’s Safer Internet Day is set to be the biggest yet, and Vodafone is a strong supporter of the cause. To find out why online safety is a bigger priority than ever, how you can help spread the word, and what the biggest online danger of all is, we’ve been speaking to Childnet’s Will Gardner…

Making a lot of noise

Will-Gardner-2015-thumb“Safe and responsible use of technology is such an important issue,” says Will. “It’s a key skill that we want all young people to know. We want all parents and carers to be able to support their children, and Safer Internet Day is the biggest opportunity in the calendar year that we have to reach out and raise awareness. It’s to help empower young people, and to give them the skills to help them get the most out of the incredible technology that they’re using.”

To achieve that goal, Safer Internet Day is working with a huge number of companies and collating content for all audiences to get to grips with:

“We have a broad range of resources and materials on our website,” Will explains. “There’s a quiz for young people to help them see what kind of online friend they are. We’ve got Safer Internet Day TV – two short 20 minute programmes which schools, parents and young people can tune into at 11am and 2pm. There are conversation starters for parents who want to take that step and talk to their children about online safety and we’ve produced a new youth film with 150 schoolchildren from across the UK about their online experiences which is available to stream or download from our website. All these resources can get the ball rolling,” he says. “There’s lots of content that people can use.”

 

 

“And if you look at the Safer Internet Day website you’ll see that we’ve got so many partners supporting this year. We’ve really mobilised a coalition because this issue isn’t just important to children’s charities; it’s important to schools, companies, charities, government, the police and a wide range of other sectors. And they’ve all joined in to help support the day through their own activities or by supporting #SID2015 on social media.

“As a big collective group we can really make a lot of noise, and that will have a really positive impact…”

“Over 300 organisations and individuals joined the Safer Internet Day thunderclap, sharing a mass tweet in support of the day, while the ‘share a smile’ campaign has seen schools, organisations and celebrities helping to create a wave of positivity of Safer Internet Day by sharing a smile. It’s clear, then, that as a big collective group we can really make a lot of noise, and that will have a really positive impact on the lives of young people.”

And Will believe that making that noise as big as possible is more important than ever, simply because more children have access to the web now than ever before:

“A big trend that anyone can see is levels of access and ownership to technology – the age has been tumbling down. We’ve traditionally worked in primary and secondary schools, but now we’re talking about the beginning of primary and even preschool, to try and make sure that we speak to children at the age that they’re first interacting with the internet. I think it’s as important that internet safety is taught within the core curriculum – it’s a fundamental skill that parents and teachers need to help children with.”

So internet safety is serious stuff then, but, as Will reveals, one of the most important things about online safety education is not to get lost in scaremongering…

The biggest risk of all

“With all of the media stories about the internet, one of the biggest challenges is that we can sometimes forget about its benefits and just focus on the negatives,” Will says. “I think it’s important that we try to put any risk that we talk about in context as most children are having a fantastic time online. They’re creating, discovering and connecting.

“There can be a more negative side, obviously, and I think the main one I’d flag up to people is around cyber-bullying. If we look at the research, in 2010, 8% of 9-16 year olds said that they had been cyber-bullied, in 2014, that figure was 12%. This increase and the impact cyber-bullying can have on young people is something we need to be mindful of but it’s always important to try and get messages out on context.

“What we don’t want to happen is for people to stop using technology it’s here, and it’s here to help and facilitate us in all sorts of social and educational ways. We just need to make sure that when we hear about the risks, we hear about them in such a way that we understand their context.”

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“But we need to be working to make sure that people know how to keep themselves safe online and to respect others,” he adds. “It’s really a digital citizenship message, where we want people to be able to look after themselves and their friends, and take an active part in the online community. And we want to make sure young people know what they can do and where they can turn if things do go wrong”

And that’s where we come in:

“Big companies have a really important role to play,” Will explains. “But it would be wrong to say that mobile networks, or parents, or the schools, or the ISPs, have, or should have sole responsibility. Everyone has a part to play if we want to be successful in this space. Companies like Vodafone have a great opportunity to communicate with their customers, and, support them in this space. As an example, Vodafone has published its Digital Parenting magazines for the past few years, which are a great asset to parents.

“We need to be working to make sure that people know how to keep themselves safe online and to respect others.”

Will tells us other companies are all raising their game too, like the NSPCC with their recent Share Aware campaign, which encourages parents to speak to their children more about online safety. The NSPCC is a huge supporter of Safer Internet Day, according to their Chief Executive, Peter Wanless, “We will be flying the flag for #SID2015.  Keeping children safe in the digital age is the child protection challenge of a generation.

“We cannot be complacent and rely on the positive action of a few technology providers to bring about change.  This is a fight that has to be the top priority for every organisation that connects children with the digital world.

“But let’s not forget the hugely positive role that the internet plays in young people’s lives too” says Peter. “68% of counselling sessions for ChildLine now happen online and the message boards are used more than ever before. This definitely includes young people who felt unable to reach us by phone.  OK there are dangers but the internet has also helped us to create a safe space for young people to share their concerns and offer each other support and advice.”

“This all means we’re able to highlight places that parents and children can go and find out more” Will says in closing. For loads more information and resources, head to saferinternet.org.uk

My Tech Family… Keen for your entire household to use the web safely, securely and – most importantly – together? Head over to our brand new My Tech Family hub to find out how.