The state of the digital environment children live in
Today's children and young people are raised in a digital world where technology is an integral part of their lives. The presence of technology from an early age indicates they are connected online more than ever. Children and adolescents account for an estimated one in three internet users around the world. Therefore, a large portion of their everyday lives is spent online, including remote learning, online gaming, or streaming, which was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the internet provides a positive impact such as the accessibility of information, it also contains potential risks and dangers that primarily target children. Harmful material online like child sexual abuse material (CSAM) is readily available in these digital environments that children can encounter or be a victim of - which you, as a parent, may not be familiar with.
The pandemic has also pushed offenders online, where they can potentially coerce victims into self-producing CSAM without having a real-life encounter. The abuser may not be present in the images but is intentionally exploiting the victim. Therefore, in this ever-changing digital world, parents and carers need to stay abreast and know where children and young people are most vulnerable to potential risks of harm.
INHOPE and European Schoolnet have a robust foundation to analyse the digital environment children and young people find themselves in and provide tips and resources on how parents can stay informed within this landscape and keep young people safe.
Remote learning environments
In March 2020, over 1.57 billion students were forced out of classrooms due to school closures. Young people had no choice but to continue their education at home via digital remote learning. Their presence online increased significantly, and offenders took notice and started spending more time online too.
The Insafe network of European Safer Internet Centres (SICs) and other partners have developed several teaching resources to help cope with the sudden shift to e-learning during the pandemic. These are available in a variety of European languages and for different parents, guardians and teachers. For example, the Maltese Safer Internet Centre has developed a list of online safety tips for teachers and educators while teaching remotely.
South West Grid for Learning SWGFL, part of the UK Safer Internet Centre, contributed with a knowledge base including many resources guiding on how to safely organise classes online.
During the early months of the pandemic, gaming emerged as a popular activity . Children were looking for alternative methods of interaction and socialising during lockdowns and stay at home orders, so gaming became a convenient medium. Recognising that children are present in online games more than ever, online predators often use this as a method to initiate and facilitate contact. For example, they may pose as a child and try to befriend the victim through a series of grooming tactics. Children tend to mistake these predators as friends as they bond over gameplay.
The Swedish Media Council has developed a series of guidelines to help parents and carers handle screen time, content filters, and computer games limitations of children and youth. In addition, SafelyOnline.eu by ChildFocus (part of the Belgian Safer Internet Centre) is an awareness-raising programme that aims to improve the media literacy education of parents and carers. Similarly, the National Youth Service (SNJ) of Luxembourg (part of the Luxembourgish Safer Internet Centre) has created a guide to help parents and carers navigate through screen time limitations and the ever-changing world of online gaming .
Livestreaming has become a popular method for young people to broadcast themselves online and on platforms and apps. It allows them the opportunity to share their life and experiences in real-time. Individuals can stream to friends but also reach a large audience of anonymous users. Since anyone can tap into the stream, online predators have started migrating to these platforms to target children and groom them. These predators may subsequently force young people to generate their live abuse, take inappropriate images, or delve for personal information. With the abuse occurring in real-time, this makes it extremely challenging for it to be moderated or detected.
This is why Trust and Safety teams are vital, to ensure that platforms are a safe environment for users. For example, online technology platform TikTok (an INHOPE funding partner) focuses on creating a safe online platform through industry collaboration. This cooperative partnership allows them to listen to honest feedback, improve, share best practices and monitor emerging developments.
The study “Living in an online stream” conducted by the Austrian Safer Internet Centre explored children and young people’s online presence and their habits and preferences on sharing and streaming their personal lives on social networks. We are using new technologies without necessarily having the knowledge or tools to understand how they can and should be used safely and securely. Therefore, we push for education in these areas to navigate the online digital environment successfully.
Jointly, INHOPE and European Schoolnet (EUN) coordinate the network of Safer Internet Centres (SICs) in Europe. INHOPE focuses on member hotline activities dedicated to the removal of illegal content online, specifically CSAM. EUN coordinates the Insafe network of awareness raising, helpline and youth participation.
Find more information on the work and activities of the Insafe and INHOPE network of Safer Internet Centres (SICs) on the Better Internet for Kids (BIK) portal. You can discover more resources and online safety tips in the resource repository of the BIK portal.
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