Empowering the next generation: youth co-creates a seminar at a democracy festival

Youth participation was the key to success when the Swedish Safer Internet Centre (SIC) recently arranged a seminar at Almedalen Week on the isle of Gotland. High school student Huda Omar, who was also the moderator of the seminar, said it is important to give children and youth real and concrete opportunities to be involved.

Date 2023-09-28 Author Swedish Safer Internet Centre Section awareness, youth Topic love, relationships, sexuality (online), media literacy/education, online reputation Audience children and young people, media specialist, research, policy and decision makers, teachers, educators and professionals
Group picture of participants from the Swedish SIC, including moderator Huda Omar

The Swedish Safer Internet Centre (SIC) recently participated in Almedalen Week, an annual event on the Swedish isle of Gotland. Almedalen Week is a democracy festival where many key actors within the public, private and civil spheres meet. The festival usually attracts approximately 45,000 visitors, and the programme this year consisted of over 2,000 unique events. The Swedish SIC was involved in organising several seminars for the festival, and especially one event that specifically involved the participation of four youth ambassadors. 

Children’s participation is central for the Swedish SIC

The Swedish SIC actively works to strengthen the participation of children and youth under the BIK+ strategy’s third pillar on active participation.  One of this year’s seminars during Almedalen Week was co-created with youth from Gotland, and designed to be targeted towards this group. The seminar “The digital world is important for youth, but when and how can youth get help from adults?” was an hour-long discussion between representatives from the Swedish SIC’s awareness-raising, hotline and helpline branches, a police officer who is the group manager for the national centre for cyber-crimes at the Swedish police, and a leisure centre manager from the Gotland region. 

The process of including youth ambassadors

In preparation for the seminar, the Swedish SIC met online with four high school students from Gotland throughout spring 2023 to discuss what they consider important issues on children’s digital rights. Eva Widgren, project leader for the Swedish SIC’s youth participation, talked about the process to involve youth, which developed rather organically.

“Initially, we wanted to get input about what is it like to be a young person today on Gotland, to figure out what would be an interesting seminar topic related to internet use for the young people living on the island. But then we realised that we needed to include even more youth ambassadors, and came up with the idea to co-create the seminar together with them.  

The original idea for the seminar evolved from focusing on different areas of online safety to focusing on what to do and where to turn if something bad happens. Indeed, the young ambassadors reported that they felt safe online but might not always know what to do if that were to change. The meetings discussed everything from seminar content to seminar structure.

The youth ambassadors also stated that children and youth coming to the seminar probably would not ask questions. The seminar was open for questions, but some were gathered in advance”, Eva says. 

The event

Before the seminar, all youth ambassadors were present and worked with the Swedish SIC staff members to disseminate information about the event and gather questions from festival visitors. In the afternoon, youth ambassador Huda Omar  moderated the seminar and asked each panellist to inform the audience about their own initiatives to improve children and youth’s online safety. For instance, the local leisure centre manager illustrated the digital youth community that the region has created on Discord. 

The seminar ended with a Q&A session. Questions were raised regarding online friendships, online harassment, and more specifically about the gaming platform Roblox. Another prominent question was how to know when you should contact the police, to which the police representatives replied that if you are uncertain you can always contact the police, and eventually they will decide what kind of intervention is needed. 

Photographer (video) credits: Mbrace

Including instead of informing

In an interview, Huda Omar stated that she thinks that children and youth participation should be improved. She emphasised how we need allow children and youth to show adults what they can achieve and contribute with. Huda’s experience shows that young people are eager to participate, but they do not know how to get involved. 

It is very important to include young people in the decision-making and working stages, and to consider their rights and thoughts on aspects that are close to them. I have participated in similar things before, so I felt that I had experience that would help me in this role.

Lastly, Huda Omar reflected on the important difference there is between including and informing.

Adults don’t only need to inform, they also need to include young people. Because informing is one thing, it means making someone aware of their rights and does not translate to including. Instead, it will only increase the feeling of alienation, and that adults always have the upper hand in these matters.

Picture of moderator Huda and other panellists during the event in Sweden.

Find more information about the work of the Swedish Safer Internet Centre, including their awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services – or find similar information for other Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe.

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