For better or worse the internet has become an intrinsic part of people’s lives. This is particularly true for children and young people. On Safer Internet Day, we wanted to take the chance to reflect on what the public have told us about their online lives.
The safety of children and young people is a top concern for the public.
They worry about the potential for children to be influenced online and their ability to deal with what they face including concerns about cyber bullying and grooming. Navigating the internet through the turbulent teenage years was a particular concern. And early teens are seen as the most vulnerable age group by the adults around them.
[It] feels like the most worrying are things that harm children because they’re not equipped. For me, those are the most concerning.
(Gloucester workshop, 2019, Ofcom Online Harms)
Teenagers tend not to see themselves as vulnerable online.
Although a recent Ofcom study found that 50% of 12-15 year olds have seen something hateful about a particular group of people on the internet, young people often don’t see themselves as at risk. They told us they felt confident online and knew how to respond to things that might be harmful – even if they didn’t always act on this. One teenager told us about how they stopped sleeping because of the harassing messages they received over several months. They described how they didn’t tell their parents because they were worried about what they might think.
Having open conversations about the online world is essential.
This potential for keeping quiet makes it even more important to raise awareness and start opening up conversations about what goes on online. Those who don’t believe they are at risk are less likely to put in place protections for themselves and may not appreciate the risk of harm. We all have the potential to be vulnerable on the internet. Being open and honest about this may help to start conversations about staying safe and telling others when something makes us uncomfortable at any age.
It is not all doom and gloom. As digital natives, children and young people know their way around the internet, and they are taking steps to protect themselves online. They are also using the internet to their advantage, from getting behind social causes to digital education. We can all learn something from those around us about making the most of the online world. And Internet Safety Day might be a good place to start talking about this - whether online or face to face.