What You Can Do Today to Help Create a Better Internet
Today is Safer Internet Day (SID) – an annual worldwide event to encourage us all to work together to create a better internet. Celebrated globally in over 130 countries, SID is an opportunity for millions of people worldwide to come together to inspire positive change and raise awareness about the importance of online safety.
The theme for 2019 is: ‘Together for a Better Internet’ which I believe is a timely reminder of the importance of us all working together if we are serious about making the internet a safer place. Whether we are parents, carers, teachers or just avid users, we all have a part to play.
The 4R’s of Online Safety
In order to make a positive change to our online world, this year we are being encouraged to focus on four critical skills that many experts believe will help us all (especially our kids) better navigate the internet and create a more positive online environment. Let’s call them the 4R’s of online safety: Respect, Responsibility, Reasoning and Resilience. So, here is my advice on what we can do to try and incorporate these four important skills into our family’s digital lives
Respect – ‘I treat myself and others the way I like to be treated’
I firmly believe that having respect for others online is critical if we are going to foster a safer and more supportive internet for our children and future generations. While many parents realise that our constant reminders about the importance of good manners and respect must also now be extended to include the online world, not everyone is on the same page.
Keyboard warriors who fire off abusive comments online, or harass and troll others clearly do not have any notion of online respect. Online actions can have serious real-world implications. In fact, online actions can often have more significant implications as the dialogue is not just contained to a few, rather it is witnessed by everyone’s online friends which could stretch into the 1000’s. Such public exchanges then create the opportunity for commentary which often further magnifies the hurt and fallout.
It is therefore essential that we have very direct conversations with our children about what is and isn’t appropriate online. And if there is even any confusion, always revert to one of my favourite lessons from my Sunday School days: treat others how you would like to be treated yourself.
Responsibility – ‘I am accountable for my actions and I take a stand when I feel something is wrong’
In my opinion, teaching our kids online responsibility is another important step in making the internet a better place. Ensuring our kids understand that they are not only responsible but accountable for their behaviour is essential. If they harass or bully others online, or are involved in sending inappropriate pics, there are consequences that could quite possible include interactions with the police department.
But being responsible online also means getting involved if you feel something isn’t right. Whether a mate is on the receiving end of online harassment or a cruel joke, getting involved and telling the perpetrator that their behaviour ‘isn’t cool’ is essential.
Reasoning – ‘I question what is real’
Teaching our kids to think critically is an essential survival skill for our kids in our content-driven online world. We need our kids to question, analyse and verify online content. They need to be able to identify reputable and credible sources and think carefully before they share and digest information.
The best thing we can do as parents is challenge our kids and get them thinking! If for example, your child is researching online for a school assignment then get them thinking. Ask them what agenda the author of the article has. Ask them whether there is a counter argument to the one laid out in the article. Ask them whether the source sharing the information is trustworthy. The aim is to teach them to question and not take anything they find online at face value.
Resilience – ‘I get back up from tough situations’
Unfortunately, the chances that your child will experience some challenges online is quite high. Whether someone posts a mean comment, they are harassed, or worst case, cyberbullied – these nasty online interactions can really hurt.
Ensuring your kids know that they can come to you about any issue they experience is essential. And you need to repeat this to them regularly, so they don’t forget! And if your child does come to you with a problem they experienced online, the worst thing you can do is threaten to disconnect them. If you do this, I guarantee you that they will never share anything else with you again.
In 2014, Parent Zone, one of the UK’s leading family digital safety organisations collaborated with the Oxford Internet Institute to examine ways to build children’s online resilience. The resulting report, A Shared Responsibility: Building Children’s Online Resilience, showed that unconditional love and respect from parents, a good set of digital skills plus the opportunity for kids to take risks and develop strategies in the online world – without being overly micro-managed by their parents – were key to building online resilience.
So, love them, educate them and give them some independence so they can start to take some small risks online and start developing resilience.
What Can You Do this Safer Internet Day?
Why not pledge to make one small change to help make the internet a better place this Safer Internet Day? Whether it’s modelling online respect, reminding your kids of their online responsibilities, challenging them to demonstrate reasoning when assessing online content or working with them to develop online resilience, just a few small steps can make a positive change.
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