Dealing with online risks
- Liam, student and Maltese Youth Panel Member
Here, Liam, a student and member of the Maltese Safer Internet Centre (SIC) Youth Panel, shares his views on dealing with online risks, especially for the protection of younger internet users.
Teenagers and technology are often inseparable in today's world. While the use of the World Wide Web is on the increase, so is concern for its safe use. To provide a safe environment, we must understand the types and frequency of risks and the solutions for reducing or, better still, eliminating them. There has been a significant amount of research on the risks faced by youth online, along with ways in which to create a safer internet for younger users.
One of the risks faced by young people online is cyberbullying or online victimisation: that is, bullying or harassment that uses electronic forms of contact. While some instances of cyberbullying are clearly identifiable, others are less so. There may be a situation where the language and tactics used by the cyberbully to intimidate his or her victim are clear signs of a criminal offence while, in other situations, it is merely poor conduct from an individual. Cyberbullying usually involves repetition of the action. There is a lack of clear agreement regarding the prevalence of cyberbullying, especially when compared to traditional bullying and this affects statistics on its prevalence. One way to address cyberbullying online is to use the connection between school bullying and cyberbullying. School bullying is dealt through initiatives which seek to improve the relationships and attitudes youth have with and towards each other. Such initiatives are thought of as potentially effective prevention measures to counter offline bullying, and they can also be useful to counter online bullying.
Young people and adults often have differing interpretations of online victimisation. While adults are more prone to treat certain actions in one way, young people might describe the same instances as a normal activity between peers that often began with an issue offline. Schools create policies so as to facilitate the creation of a school-wide bullying prevention programme, and these programmes typically include periodic evaluations of their effectiveness. Successful and effective programmes work to promote anti-bullying strategies at each level within the school, from individual students and classrooms, to anti-bullying teams that combine educators and students.
Heavy internet users might encounter inappropriate content online; young people may often be faced by sexual harassment or unwanted exposure to sexual content online. The unlimited content in the World Wide Web can lead immature youths to a vast collection of unwanted sexual content and knowledge. Examples include requests for sexual contact, sexual talk, sending or asking for sexual photographs, or the disclosure of unwanted sexual information. Youths are also sometimes confronted with suggestive content or sexual imagery/videos while surfing the web for non-sexual content, such as via unwanted pop ups. They could receive email scams.
The most commonly suggested strategy for dealing with unwanted sexual encounters is to encourage or help young people to block the provider of such content, or leave the online forum in which they are encountering problems. Since most youths tend to not involve adults when they encounter issues online due to embarrassment, parents and educators need to be made aware of the signs to look out for to indicate that young people could be encountering difficulties. As such, courses and informative talks are often organised in schools or by local councils while other effective methods include filtering and firewall technologies. Additionally, companies that provide internet access are encouraged to provide safer online environments for their users, hence providing another means to address risks online.
Many of the risks which the internet poses can be reduced if young people more proactively preserve their privacy online. They must be educated to be less eager to disclose personal information online and know how to manage their privacy; such education is essential in schools, especially from a young age. Due to the generation gap between parents and their children, there is possibly a misunderstanding of each other which may hinder trust and hence impact on effective control of online risk. Communication between young people and adults must therefore be encouraged; engaging in dialogue about cyber safety may help ease the gap and enhance safety measures. Such dialogues can also motivate young people to help to educate their parents on the resources and websites available online which, in turn, can help adults to better supervise and facilitate their children's safety.
It is crucial to discuss internet safety measures among the leaders of tomorrow's world. The benefits that the web provides are part of our modern culture and we must not let our many technological advancements backfire on the safety of the young people themselves.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Better Internet for Kids Portal, European Schoolnet, the European Commission or any related organisations or parties.
Find out more about the work of the Maltese Safer Internet Centre (SIC), including its awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services.
- Maltese Safer Internet Centre/Stephen Camilleri, Education Officer – PSCD
As part of the BeSmartOnline! project in Malta, Personal Social and Career Development (PSCD) Education Officers have developed a series of workbooks to help teach young people digital citizenship skills. Read on to find out more.