Awareness sessions on children's digital rights from the perspective of a BIK Youth Ambassador

  • Youth
  • 07/01/2020
  • João Pedro Martins, BIK Youth Ambassador

In 2019, the Convention on the Rights of the Child turned 30. To celebrate this, Portuguese Better Internet for Kids (BIK) Youth Ambassador João Pedro Martins took part in awareness sessions on the digital rights of children and young people in the Azores Archipelago, and shares some takeaways below. 

"From September 2019, for about 3 months, I had the opportunity to contribute to an initiative in the Azores Archipelago that reached over 2,700 children and 500 community members, with the aim of promoting the rights of children and young people. We did so through awareness sessions, reaching all 19 municipalities of the archipelago. The initiative was promoted and coordinated by the Azorean Commissariat for Children, as part of its action plan, and is part of the Regional Strategy to Combat Poverty and Social Exclusion. These sessions were aimed primarily at students from fifth to ninth grade and, secondly, their parents, family members and entities with competence in matters of childhood and youth.

"The United Nations adopted 30 years ago, on 20 November 1989, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a document that sets out the fundamental rights of children. My intervention in the sessions consisted in bridging the gap between the rights of the physical and digital worlds. I have tried to promote an exchange of ideas on how young people should see their rights guaranteed online. Specifically, I sought to address the issue from the point of view of parental supervision and the adoption of self-protective behaviours.

"We must demystify the concept of parental supervision and show young people what it really means. Thus, from my perspective, I stress some essential values in the relationship of parents and children in the context of the use of digital technology. They are the following.

  1. Trust – Young people need to feel comfortable talking about their challenges to their parents, while parents provide the freedom and right to privacy necessary for the child's good development.
  2. Effective communication, in order to approximate parents and youngsters' views when talking about challenges on the internet.
  3. Respect – Working through the expression of feelings behind punishments and grudges.
  4. Support, as culmination of the application of the previous three and where we reach the possibility of solving problems and challenges.

"Regarding self-protective behaviours, the reflections were related to the time we currently spend online, and how we spend that time. It is important to raise awareness of how the digital platforms' algorithms we use are optimised to maximise our interaction so that we spend more time online. The huge amount of screen time is a reality across society and is a possible area of debate to narrow the generational gap when it comes to digital issues.

"On a personal level, it was an extremely rewarding initiative. It was interesting to experience first-hand the particulars of each community, expressed in the stories the children and young people shared with me throughout the sessions. A recurring finding is that children and young people do not always perceive their parents' reactions when they experience a negative situation and instead of understanding their parents' concerns, they associate punishments and grudges with disappointment, sadness or anger. On the other hand, young people are excellent at capturing their parents' realities when I asked them if sometimes it wasn't their parents who were being held hostage by mobile phones, for work or other reasons.
"While it is not all the work that needs to be done, the truth is that we have to grow as a society in the way we look and deal with spending more and more time online. This means safeguarding the rights of children and young people, whether by empowering their own conscience in the use of digital technology, community building or improving parental relationships to provide them with the support network to exploit and develop their digital skills."

João Pedro (Portugal)

João is a young Computer Engineering student at the University of Coimbra. He has been a Youth Ambassador for about seven years. Born in Portugal, he was one of the first members from outside Lisbon to join the youth panel of his national Safer Internet Centre (SIC). After attending the Safer Internet Forum (SIF) in Luxembourg in 2011 representing his country, he was invited to be a Youth Ambassador. Since then he has attended some seminars – including one in Paris at Vivendi headquarters, and another one in Cachan. He also attended the European Parliament for the launch of the WebWeWant handbook, and participated in two more editions of Safer Internet Forum, one of which took place in Brussels. Throughout the years, he has had the opportunity to both raise awareness among his peers and learn about online safety issues. All these events have also been extraordinary occasions to meet many interesting people from all around the world.
Young people's opinions are very important for Joao and he believes that they should be taken into account by both politicians and industry. That is why he is involved in several projects, most of them connected to youth participation in debates and decision making processes. More recently, he has worked alongside his national SIC to organise lectures in local schools and regional events, and has been involved in internet governance events, both at national (Incode2030 and Portuguese IGF – 2016/17) and international (Global IGF – Mexico 2016) levels.

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