Are children any safer online now than they used to be?
5 experts have answered
Another year, another online safety week on the horizon. It seems you can’t move these days for e-safety awareness-raising events, public information campaigns, and politicians organising summits to speak to the leading figures in the industry. But in all this pontificating and chin-stroking, very few people are asking a vital question: is any of this making children safer online?
This summer has been a high-water mark for digital safety stories in the mainstream media, with national discussions on Internet filtering, rape threats on Twitter, and teen suicides linked to Ask.fm all dominating the press. It’s no surprise that many parents I speak to in my work think that their children are facing more online threats than ever. We are living in an era which will come to be looked on in the same way as the industrial revolution, and the irresistible rise of technology concerns and frightens many.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that children aren’t safer online.
In fact, despite the tragic circumstances that led to many people learning about the existence of Ask.fm, the mere fact that this particular corner of the web was opened up to scrutiny by parents and the authorities has forced through changes that will ultimately help to safeguard children. Similarly, the debate over Twitter’s response (or initial lack of) to the vile threats sent to Caroline Criado-Perez has raised our societal awareness of the legal consequences of our actions online, as well as empowering us as engaged customers who can demand that social networks take their duty of care to children seriously.
Google is fond of saying that ‘the web is what you make of it’, and nowhere is this truer than in how children engage with the internet. Governments, manufacturers, and software developers are building the safeguards to help keep children safe online; the challenge now is to get parents and children using them.
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Twenty-five years ago children and teens use internet relay chat. muds and moos and the stalkers were rampant. But back then before windows and the web, relatively few were on the web and it was much easier to control the places students could visit. There was little bandwidth and photos and sound were just not available. The children who were on the nets were presumably brighter, but not necessarily wiser.
Today the problem has been magnified by the scope of the Internet and the number of children on line is at least a magnitude higher. The average intellectual ability of the students online has dropped as almost all now participate. People in general are willing to share intimate details and photos, marking them as targets.
Has our efforts to educate children about the dangers of the web been effective? I really do not know. Are there statistics available?
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This is one of those questions that does not have a right or wrong answer and either way you try to answer it there will always be an argument. If someone says " No the internet is not safer" then everyone who has worked so hard to make it safer argue. If you say " Yes the internet is safer" then everyone who has had a bad experience comes out of the wood work.
The answer to this question is and will always be " the internet is as safe or as dangerous as you make it". Is it safe for children, depends on how you taught your child to act on the net. Is it safe for adults, depends on how YOU act on the net.
The internet is like a car when you turn 16 or the first date, or the first over night trip that your child takes. if you raised them right and you instilled trust in them, they will do the right thing even when faced with danger.
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I agree that the internet is certainly as safe as you make it. Yes there are all manner of filters, privacy settings, sites you can block etc, but at the end of the day if we really give kids the skills to interact online in a responsible and safe way with respect to themselves and others, then it can be a safe and very positive experience. I agree, no right or wrong answer here. Yes there is more scope for kids to get into trouble. There are more sites, there are more portable devices, there is more access to the online world for kids. They can just about log in to a free wifi anywhere now and their whole social life revolves around these online interactions. However we are also a lot more aware of the dangers that exist and thus have a better chance of teaching our kids the skills they will need. And we can do that from the moment that toddler first swipes an ipad.
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