People use the internet and its technologies according to their nature, their mental balance and the way they react to the pressures of the environment around them - said Raúl Melo. "We can only achieve prevention when we are more aware of the risks that surround us and the problems that, from the person's point of view, lie behind the safety or insecurity that certain behaviours trigger".
In recent years, SICAD and the Portuguese Safer Internet Centre (SIC) have worked together to promote digital literacy, create a healthy environment and support people with greater personal and social skills to use this resource, the internet, properly.
How do you do prevention?
The question "How do you do prevention?" was raised by Raúl Melo and answered with a statement based on his experience in the health sector about questioning the effectiveness of this method. "Doing prevention well is important, not doing it well is very complicated because it implies a massive investment of time and resources that later does not work," the psychologist stressed, pointing out that the population, the target of the intervention, develops a certain resistance to the prevention message if it does not work.
Although the act of informing is quite popular, recent studies show that an informed person is not necessarily a protected person, as information can be used to justify inappropriate behaviour. Awareness raising and spreading information are important as a basis for developing skills - to find solutions, to have personal and collective resources and to deal with situations that arise, Raúl Melo explained.
"Working on the collective perspective, building this thinking and attitude in the group is crucial for prevention to be effective." During his contribution in the panel discussion, the SICAD representative highlighted the global reflection carried out in a class, from the individual thoughts, as an important process so that the problem is not only considered from the individual point of view. Reducing risks is the last point in the prevention process because "if I control, if I have strict rules, if I have a certification system, then I control potential risks," he said.
The main obstacles in prevention included the ability to get young people's attention, motivate them and make them feel that this attitude is built collectively and not imposed by the adults who surround them, as well as the practical and applicable side of prevention so that everyone who participates in the process can say that it can happen to them too and use these resources.
Some prevention strategies refer to: ensuring interactivity, because in order to achieve greater student participation, it is necessary to give them an active role in the approach; ensuring identification with the issues being discussed; involving students in finding solutions; integrating prevention content into a broader perspective so that they realise that the issue exists in a reality.
In order for children and young people to want to listen to the speaker, it is important that they are able to answer the question that each of them asks individually in the first few seconds as to why he or she should do so. In this sense, Raúl Melo informed that the answer should not be "I am here to protect them, because then they close the door and leave - they do not need me to protect them", but rather that "they are our best hope for safety or protection, because when bad things happen in the dynamics of everyday life, those who know what is happening are the same, the same". With this approach, they are told that they are important and that "they are not there because they need me, but because I need them" - thus the idea of accountability and appreciation emerges.
The role of storytelling in prevention
With this in mind, SICAD and the SIC will use stories to get young people thinking. The “Eu e os Outros” programme, aimed at 12-to-18-year-olds, explores interactive narratives to address issues related to drug addiction and problematic internet use. Through characters that create a protective distance for users, a certain problem is discussed. With this interactive narrative, participants can change and influence the development of the story depending on their choices. By exploring the consequences rather than the concepts, young people realise the impact of their choices.
Ten stories were constructed from the lives of nine characters - with the participation of the young people who gave clues about the characters' characteristics, in areas such as family, interests, psychological traits, fears and future projects. Starting from story four for example, which is about addictions without substance, the way we use the internet, the possibilities we have, safety precautions and the risks in the relationship with others, a digital game was developed.
Based on seven sessions per story, because only the continued intervention with the maintenance of reflection provokes a change in behaviour, a group led by the game master will absorb and discuss the content of the stories. This time for exploration follows the presentation of the story and, after visualising the knowledge on the topic, allows to give access to informative content on smartphones during the game, if needed. From the moment of deciding whether the group agrees or not, a natural process of peer pressure is created, thus an opportunity to work on personal and social skills.
Find out more about the work of the Portuguese Safer Internet Centre, including its awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services – or find similar information for Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe.