2015 FOSI Conference: Kids, parents and the state of online safety

By Emily Mulder

For two days on November 17th and 18th, the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) will hold its ninth Annual Conference, Risks. Harms. Rewards in Washington, DC.  We will seek to review the past year in online safety, discuss and debate current issues and plan for the future challenges technology might bring.

This year’s theme – exploring the benefits, opportunities and challenges that digital life creates for us – comes from a careful evaluation of activity in the field. While the “state of online safety” is a constantly moving and expanding target, we do our best to hit the mark as many times as we can before the narrative changes.

The kids will be alright

Once we reconcile with the average number of hours per day kids spend on devices consuming content, the next logical step becomes how we make sure that that content is healthy, educational and fosters creativity and citizenship. Our responsibility is to provide kids with what will help them grow – and in a digital context, that means giving them skills, stimulation, and a voice.  Better content for kids means empowering them to become creators of content, not just passive consumers and statistics.

This concept lends itself to some of the ideas in the children’s rights debate, particularly the push for those across all sectors to recognize that children should be given full agency in the decisions that are made around their media use. Academics and industry figures are continually working through complications and setbacks in the rights arena, and finding an overall lack of structure in Internet governance that supports true rights for children. There is pressure from top voices to recognize that children and young people must not only be protected, but also allowed to exercise their rights of participation in the decisions that concern them.

Parents Are Not Helpless

Of course, any discussion on the behavior and safety of kids leads us straight to parents. Every year brings new perspective to being a digital parent and the new obstacles and challenges of raising tech-savvy kids.

We’re looking forward to further contributing to this discussion with the release of this week’s new original research piece, which will measure key aspects of the digital parenting experience. We’ll explore how parents view the role that technology plays in their children’s lives, how they manage that technology use, and how successful they feel about their own modeling of good digital behavior.

Evidence continues to show us that young children differentiate less and less between their online and offline lives, and that lack of distinction makes a substantial difference in the way they will respond to parenting technique, and what will create a happy, healthy digital home.

The good news is that more and more parents are able to see the overwhelmingly positive role that technology can play in their children’s lives, and how vital it is to their future success. For those that are still unsure, there has never been a better time to find resources online – from our own Good Digital Parenting initiative to many others.

Policy and real-life implications

The year has brought to light everything from the staggering use of social media as harmful extremist propaganda, to increased discussion about online child sexual exploitation that has prompted the action of governments worldwide. On the consumer side, we have talking Barbies and connected everything: cars, watches and houses. These issues have cumulated in a year of new initiatives, summits, frameworks and white-knuckled coverage from the press.

As a strong proponent of enlightened public policy, we are always looking for a light touch to regulation, optimistic about the effectiveness of education, awareness raising, and sharing resources and best practices. In a field where we’re unsure of what the next decade will bring, we must look for timeless solutions that will hold up against future innovation.

Real life experience

So much discussion about technology is focused on the future, and the speed at which we’ll get there.  As professionals in the space, it can be easy to get caught up in risks and harms and forget about the rewards, which usually manifest in the accomplishments of outstanding individuals. Among a very diverse array of attitudes, topics and outlooks, the people’s own stories can often personify a policy decision, or humanize a hashtag. To highlight the amazing realities of what people are doing in the digital world, we could not be more thrilled about our lineup of keynote speakers.

We have Trisha Prabhu, the 15-year-old Founder and CEO of ReThink, a software program that combats cyberbullying. Christopher Wood, whose deeply personal story credits technology for saving his life on more than one occasion. The inspirational Nancy Lublin of Crisis Text Line, whose tremendous work has leveraged technology in the best way possible to impact young lives. And Alexander Macgillivray, whose multi-faceted career has impacted major change in technology policy everywhere from Google and Twitter to the White House, where he serves as Deputy CTO.

Throughout “Risks. Harms. Rewards” we look forward to healthy debate, exploration of new trends, and further expansion of a vital evidence base. If you can’t attend to weigh in in person, we hope that you’ll contribute to the discussion on November 17-18 using #fosi2015.

To view the full agenda for the conference, see here.

To register for the event, click here.

For any questions or further information, contact events@fosi.org.

Emily Mulder is communications manager of the Family Online Safety Institute