Digital Safety for Children: How to Protect Children on the Internet

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Technology has made it easier for bullies to harm, degrade, and ridicule another individual online. With the plethora of online platforms available, cyberbullying has become and continues to be an important concern in schools and society as online interactions and use of social media increase. A 2015 report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) talks about a worldwide study on cyberbullying, assessing youth aged 8 to 17 years old in 25 countries. The study shows that the 3 countries with the highest rates of online bullying were in Asia: China (70%), Singapore (58%), and India (53%).

Any form of bullying, including cyberbullying, may be detrimental to children’s mental health conditions. Research shows that cyberbullying victims under 25 years are at greater risk of self-harm and suicidal behavior than non-victims while perpetrators themselves also suffer from greater suicidal behaviours and ideation than non-perpetrators. Thus, parents, guardians, and educators need to understand how they can empower their children to practice digital safety.

Digital Safety and Resilience in the Asia-Pacific Region

Apart from cyberbullying, the growth of technology has also exhibited other safety issues such as misuse of information, identity theft, infringement of intellectual property, and the like. These pressing issues have caught the attention of Member States, institutions, and organizations and have prompted demand for research and policy responses. UNESCO policy review that assessed the national policies and initiatives of Member States in the Asia-Pacific surrounding children’s safe and responsible use of information and communication technology (ICT) found that  governments’ policies to promote ICT opportunities mature in tandem with policies that address potential risks. Yet the focus is still on basic skills for teachers and students, and ICT infrastructure at the secondary level. Three-quarters of countries have policies that encourage the development of basic ICT literacy skills and promote at least one computer laboratory per school at the secondary level. Significantly, governments rely on content filtering and restricting access to content to reduce the risks of ICT use among children, without building their competencies and resilience.

The study also presents how Bangladesh is one of the countries that showed a high level of policy development despite comparatively low levels of income and ICT development. This is reflected in the results of the regional report entitled “Digital Kids Asia-Pacific (DKAP): Insights into Children’s Citizenship.”

The DKAP regional report asked whom the students seek help from when they face online risks. Among four countries surveyed – Fiji, Bangladesh, Viet Nam, and South Korea – Bangladesh students were most comfortable seeking help from multiple sources on how to safely use the internet. About one-third answered that they sought suggestions from each of four sources: their parents or caregivers, teachers,  siblings, or peers.

On the contrary, the students from the other three countries reported that they hardly received guidance on internet safety from their teachers, siblings, or peers. 50 percent of students from Korea reported this while 33.1 percent of students in Fiji and 37.6 percent of students in Viet Nam reported that they also hardly received internet safety guidance from their teachers.

Only 9.3 percent of students in Bangladesh reported that their teachers hardly gave suggestions on staying safe on the internet. This finding shows how developed policies can co-exist with lower levels of ICT development and access.

Protecting Children on the Internet

girl using smartphone

The Digital Kids Asia-Pacific Framework for Education (DKAP Framework) defines Digital Safety and Resilience as “the ability of children to protect themselves and others from harm in the digital space.” Its four competencies help provide ways in keeping children safe from online risks, such as:

  • Educating children about their rights

Parents, educators, and peers must understand children’s rights and obligations in a global and local perspective. They should take part in encouraging them to actively learn and collaborate in digital platforms while making them aware of their rights and obligations on what they can and cannot do online.

  • Explain personal data and privacy

Children must understand the value of information and personal data. They must be properly educated about how they could maintain their privacy online and avoid making themselves vulnerable. Parents, guardians, and educators must work together to help them impose protocols to keep them safe.

  • Establish grounds for healthy usage of ICT

In promoting and protecting health and well-being, one must understand the child’s capacity to recognize and deal with health risks. In line with this, children must be able to have a balance when using technology. With the guidance of adults, children must regulate themselves and control how often they use digital devices as overusing these may lead to health issues.

  • Promote digital resilience

Adults must lead children towards digital resilience to help them react to experiences responsibly. When a child is digitally resilient, she is aware of potential online risks, uses digital skills to prevent such risks, and applies problem-solving when facing them.

These competencies, in conjunction with the four other DKAP domains, entrust and empower children with the ability to keep themselves safe online. As a result, children do not merely fear the risks that come with the internet but are able to negotiate the risks while benefiting from the myriad of opportunities. It is imperative that governments begin to understand the nuances of digital safety and resilience and take a holistic approach to strengthen educators, parents, and children for the future.

To learn more about the DKAP Framework, download the full report here.

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