Children arrive in the world as blank slates, knowing nothing of the wonders nor the risks that surround them. It falls to the parent, carer, guardian and teacher to equip them with the knowledge and skills to succeed in the world and to keep themselves safe.
It used to be all about looking both ways before you cross a street and not touching a hot cooker, but safety for today’s children must extend into the digital world too. According to research, one in three internet users worldwide are children. In the UK, half of ten-year-olds have their own smartphone and 43% of those aged 11 who are online have a social media profile. By the age of 13 – the legal age for being on the main social media platforms – over half have a profile. Today’s children are growing up online and need the skills necessary to do so safely.
Unfortunately – but understandably – online safety is an area in which many adults feel less confident to offer guidance because cyber space is a relatively new realm for us too. It changes rapidly, and our insecurity in providing safety advice to young people is exacerbated by the vast amount of guidance and information out there, some of it of dubious quality and potentially unverified by experts. It can be bamboozling to say the least and can result in substandard online safety education for our young people – which potentially leaves them at risk.
At Nominet, we are aware of all these issues and recently conducted discovery research in partnership with NPC and Parentzone, as part of efforts to identify how we can best help support children’s online safety. This forms part of our ongoing Public Benefit programme, which aims to improve the lives of one million young people by tackling some of the most important digital issues facing them. To avoid merely adding to the noise in what we have found to be a crowded space, Nominet is helping some of the established and reputable organisations already doing fantastic work in online safety education. We will support them to reach young people from a range of backgrounds with their interventions to help ensure no one misses out on these crucial skills.
The organisations we are supporting within our Children’s Online Safety programme are Childnet and South West Grid for Learning. Both have a wealth of experience, and existing programmes that are making a huge difference with school aged children.
Childnet runs Digital Leaders, a youth leadership training programme which empowers young people to educate their peers on online safety and internet use. The charity will receive £125,000 of Nominet funding from a new bursary scheme, called Childnet and Nominet Digital Leaders Plus. This will help expand the reach of the current programme into the 30 most disadvantaged areas of the UK, giving more young people the opportunity to take part without the budget of their school being a limiting factor. By training up to 30 Digital Leaders a year in each school, who then in turn will educate their peers, the programme helps the students to take responsibility for their safety and to work together – and children will often heed the advice of their peers over an adult or authority figure. Childnet is expecting to reach 2,000 students through 65 schools with the additional funding, setting off a ‘play it forward’ attitude to online safety that could reach further still.
South West Grid for Learning takes a different approach to this challenge, and Nominet’s funding of £125,000 will support their Project EVOLVE. This is an engaging and easy-to-use digital tool which has been developed by specialists and – crucially – with the input of children when it comes to usability and relevance. The tool provides progressive digital skills and will cover every aspect of online life for those aged from three to eighteen, such as self-image and identity or online relationships. It’s a comprehensive approach to online safety that is truly tailored to each age group and the range of digital skills and competencies young people need. In short, a perfectly placed tool for a dynamic shifting space and caters impressively to the changing needs of young people as they grow and develop. Crucially, with Nominet’s funding, South West Grid for Learning will develop an assessment tool, allowing teachers to easily access the digital skills of their students, and garner a better understanding of areas where young people need more support.
In all of this work, we must remember that the onus is not on children to be safe online. We as adults must shoulder the responsibility to give them the skills they need to remain safe when using the internet. Just as we wouldn’t expect a toddler to know why crossing the road is dangerous, we can’t assume young people know the risks of their digital devices and usage nor fully appreciate what harms may befall them if they are not intrinsically aware and careful online. It’s not easy – anyone with children of their own can attest to the challenges of parenting in a digital age – but it’s vital, and there is some great work being done out there by those with the understanding of the risks and the best methods to reach, inspire and empower of young people.
As a parent myself, I’m thrilled to see Nominet funding such critical work and supporting programmes that will help young people like my boys to gain the skills and knowledge they need, not to mention signposting where to go for advice about staying safe online. I know some of the resources will help me too.
It’s tough to be a young person today, growing up in a world that is changing rapidly, with evolving technologies that will transform the world around them before they have a chance to get to know it. It is also exciting, offering incredible opportunities for their future, provided they can keep themselves safe in the meantime. I hope that through this new Children’s Online Safety funding programme, we are helping to make that possible, enabling our next generation to thrive.
Find out more about Nominet’s Children’s Online Safety programme in the press release.