Safer Internet Day: Wrong to focus on 5-to-7-year-olds?

I was surprised by the surprise in the voice of a newspaper reporter interviewing me last week, when he asked me to repeat a point about how a youth police officer I know started talking with 4th-graders about online safety. Well, today – the European Union’s Safer Internet Day – the UK’s awareness campaign is aimed at 5-to-7-year-olds (see The Guardian’s coverage). Wouldn’t the reporter be surprised about that?! I actually think new-media literacy and mindfulness about how they (we all) treat one another online and offline should be taught to children from the moment they start playing with digital devices. And I’m certainly not alone – I heard many statements to that effect at the Safer Internet Forum in Luxembourg last October (see this).

Yet, Ian Douglas at The Telegraph is saying “Safer Internet day is pitching too young” and says parents need to be the primary audience. Absolutely, they’re paramount. But I think there is no primary audience. Safety on the fixed and mobile, user-driven social Web is a multi-stakeholder proposition. Just as the only logical solution to bullying/cyberbullying (there is great overlap between the two) is a whole-school-community one, the same goes for youth safety at the societal level. Everybody’s teaching and learning in this multi-directional new media environment, everybody has a say in their own, their friends’, and their community’s well-being, online and offline piece of the solution: user, family, school, caregivers, teachers, industry, government. And yes, Douglas is right that it’s not for young children if Net-safety messaging defaults to the old predator-focused, fear-based, research-ignoring fare we’ve hopefully moved past. He’s wrong if online/offline citizenship and mindfulness are the content of safety education. Meanwhile, two-thirds of 14,000 European children surveyed said their parents “do nothing to encourage them to be safe online,” according to a new Microsoft survey cited in the Irish Times. [Here’s much more Safer Internet Day coverage. See also “Online Safety 3.0: Empowering & Protecting Youth.” I’ll be blogging more about the school part of the equation soon.]

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