Helping children develop the digital skills they need to stay safe online

In this blog, Catherine Russell, Corporate Social Responsibility Lead at Vodafone UK, talks about the challenges parents face in keeping their children safe online, and the importance of helping young people to develop critical thinking skills and digital resilience. Catherine also introduces the latest edition of Vodafone UK's annual Digital Parenting magazine, providing a whole host of practical help and advice for parents, not just in the UK, but across Europe and beyond too.

Every parent I know worries about how to keep children safe online. No matter how old our kids are, we worry about whether we're doing enough to protect them. These days, even children younger than ten are setting up social media accounts and connecting with people their parents may never have met in real life. Although the age limit for most social media channels is 13, more than three-quarters of children in the UK aged between 10 and 12 have their own social media accounts, according to a survey for CBBC Newsround. And young people are spending more time online too – children aged between eight and 11 spend about 11.1 hours a week online, more than twice the amount recorded ten years ago, a report from Ofcom has found.

Now more than ever, parents need practical help when it comes to making sure that their children are staying safe online. Digital Parenting, an annual magazine published by Vodafone UK, provides the latest expert advice on how parents can help their children develop the skills and knowledge they need to use the online world safely and with confidence. Created by Parent Zone, the family online safety experts, Digital Parenting contains articles and information written by psychologists, teachers, parents and other influencers and professionals in this field, and is funded by the Vodafone Foundation, a registered charity.*

The growing threat of cyberbullying

Parenting in the digital age means not just being aware of dangers like cyberbullying, but also knowing what to do about it. Cyberbullying affects children as young as 10: one in five children aged between 10 and 12 have experienced bullying or trolling on social media, according to the survey for CBBC Newsround. And the threat is increasing – the number of counselling sessions the NSPCC's helpline service Childline delivered to young people calling about online bullying has risen by 88 per cent between 2011 and 2016, the NSPCC reports.

Vodafone is proud to be a member of The Royal Foundation's Taskforce on the Prevention of Cyberbullying. The Taskforce of industry and charity leaders is working with young people to provide initiatives to combat cyberbullying. To read more, click here.

The importance of digital resilience

One of the most important skills we need to teach children to help them deal with cyberbullying is digital resilience. In the words of Vicki Shotbolt, CEO of Parent Zone: "digital resilience means you recognise when you're at risk online, and…you know what to do." As she notes in her article on digital resilience, "a resilient child is more likely to stay safe if anything bad happens, and benefit from the opportunities the online world provides." For more from Shotbolt on what you can do to help your child develop digital resilience, click here.

Another essential skill that can help children stay safe online is critical thinking, says Eleanor Levy, editor of Parent Info, a collaboration between Parent Zone and CEOP, the child protection command of the National Crime Agency. As Levy explains, critical thinking skills can help steer children away not just from fake news, but also from viral stunts promoted over social media that could prove damaging to their wellbeing. Indeed, the danger of online stunts is that they can go haywire, with potentially lethal consequences.

"Being a critical thinker online…is about knowing when a website is giving you advice that is either wrong or potentially harmful, and about recognising and rejecting peer pressure to join in with online crazes that could hurt you, or someone you know," Levy writes. Levy recommends teaching children two other essential digital life skills – being a confident communicator and being a capable user of digital tools. You can read about these here.

Keep up to date and be in the know on digital topics

Beyond digital skills, Digital Parenting's sixth issue covers a wide range of topical subjects, such as cybercrime and sharenting, which is the practice of sharing once-private parenting moments on social media. If you're concerned about whether you might be sharing too much information about your children online, try taking the quiz "Do you sharent as well as you parent" and see how you score.

Or if you're interested in new technologies that could be used to help children learn, like virtual reality, or new digital features that are becoming increasingly popular, like live-streaming apps, we've got it covered.

View the Digital Parenting magazine online here, and join the conversation online using the hashtag #digitalparenting.

*About The Vodafone Foundation

The Vodafone Foundation is a UK-registered charity, registered charity number 1089625. Globally, the Vodafone Foundation supports projects that are focused on delivering public benefit through the use of mobile technology across the areas of health, education and disaster relief.

This article was originally published as a Vodafone UK Media Centre Corporate Blog and is reproduced here with permission. Read more about the work of Vodafone UK, along with contact details, on the original blog.


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