For a safer internet
As Belgian children and youth are highly connected and in need of a digital social life, in 2014 Child Focus opened a helpline for a safer internet, intended to support any person having concerns or questions about minors’ safety online. This helpline is available at the free emergency number of Child Focus 116 000. The service soon became a huge success and the number of calls raised quickly to reach an average of 400 cases per year. 60 per cent of the questions are related to the sexual integrity of minors and 90 per cent of callers are adults preoccupied with the digital well-being of a minor. But Child Focus keeps going further and wants to directly support children and youth.
Youth and the digital world
It is not an easy task, as when children and youth are involved in online issues, they tend to remain on their own at first before possibly calling their friends. The recent study on digital habits “#Generation2020”, led by Média Animation, shows that more than 50 per cent of children and youth confirm having faced troubles online, in the form of mean or hurtful messages. Less than a third have also been threatened. In 61 per cent of the cases, the young person received such message from someone they know well. Only 11 per cent of online troubles came from a stranger. About 20 per cent of children and youth facing problems on the internet do not search for any help nor ask for advice. They mainly talk to their friends (47 per cent), a sibling (27 per cent), a parent (39 per cent), or a teacher (17 per cent). When they face troubles, Generation Z children and youth mostly talk to peers, and would rather, as digital natives, talk via text messages than on the phone.
A double challenge
How can we help those who remain alone with their online troubles, and how can we facilitate the meeting and mutual support between young people, since they are each other’s main resource?
CyberSquad is the answer. This platform is a lot more than just a peer support website, it is a movement that shows solidarity and a gathering focused on teenagers. They are the ambassadors. With pride and respect, they bring valuable content to the CyberSquad community, and are always available to help those in need.
How does it work?
In concrete terms, the platform www.cybersquad.be represents a gathering point. It is a 100 per cent safe online forum for children and youth. Teenagers and young adults can express themselves on several topics, including sexuality, love, friendship, online relationships, cyberbullying, privacy, online reputation, online safety, and more. Themes handled by Child Focus are also tackled: sexting, grooming, sextortion. Users discuss and find help by asking anonymous questions on the forum. They can share personal experience and advice, or simply consult the forum without participating. The goal is to stimulate mutual assistance among peers, by diminishing “adult” interventions. A moderation is planned among Child Focus’ employees.
A professional team of support
Naturally, in case of emergency, users can directly chat with an operation employee from Child Focus via a help button visible everywhere on the website. Professionals are ready to solve any sensitive matters children and youth might have. This chat function will be available on Wednesday afternoons.
This project for teenagers was made possible by involving teenagers themselves. Young alumni from the Belgian Advertising School (BAS) have developed the name and concept. Junior designers and developers from MolenGeek have built the platform. Schools and youth centres have produced the basic content. Google and Test Achats support the project via their platform CyberSimple.be by creating a new section with answers concerning “teenagers and online safety” for parents and adults. CyberSimple.be aims at promoting a safer internet and to raise awareness among users to offer a better protection against online risks. This partner platform with a similar content is aimed at adults and young adults.
Discover the platform here: www.cybersquad.be. Find out more about Safer Internet Day in Belgium. Alternatively, find out more about the work and initiatives of the Belgian Safer Internet Centre, or find similar information for Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe. On the Better Internet for Kids (BIK) platform, additional useful tools can be found in the resource repository and in the Guide to apps section.