Upon request of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, Alexander Radevich, Board Chair at the Centre of Social and Education Initiatives (Izhevsk, Russia), reflects on how to protect children from threats on the net:
The web has already firmly entered into the everyday lives of today’s children. It is now virtually impossible to imagine a child outside of cyberspace, where, inter alia, they learn and discover new things, watch cartoons and pictures, listen to music, make purchases, play games and participate in online competitions, make new friends, communicate, etc. According to statistics, 44% of schoolchildren in Russia literally live on the net. The rejuvenation of users of global communications that today cover even three-year-olds is also a clear trend.
Apart from great online learning and communication opportunities, advanced technologies have also brought threats and risks of the same infinite magnitude. Children form a part of Internet users, which is most vulnerable to digital dangers posed by scammers, drug and human traffickers, child pornography producers and distributors, pedophiles. Young users are confronted with materials related to racial and religious hatred (extremism, terrorism, nationalism) as well as with those related to hate or aggression towards certain groups of people, individuals or animals. New Internet opportunities create an enabling environment that may generate some communication risks associated with illicit contacts, such as grooming and cyberbulling, or web-based (cyber)risks, such as identity theft (attempt to acquire the victim’s personal information), virus and spam attacks, online fraud, spyware programmes, etc. Besides, the global network indeed increases the likelihood of consumer hazards – purchasing low-quality goods, fakes, counterfeit and adulterated products, or even financial losses. As information and communication environment and its tools evolve, this list will only expand.
While growing up, children often face these and other emerging digital risks and threats. As a result, some may experience serious psychological traumata and stress and become a victim of fraudsters, other adults or peers. Thus, it disrupts children’s personal development and adversely affects their ethical and moral values.
The basis of Internet security is the education and awareness of both children and adults. Practice, research results and specialist findings (psychologists, police officers, scientists) suggest that relevant education should begin already in preschool and at an early school age. It would surely help to lay the ground for children’s understanding of Internet usage culture, reasonable use and adequate application of the world of communications to real life. Family involvement, which to this day remains a serious gap and problem, has also a particularly important role to play in the education process.
Our survey among parents showed that over 90 percent of adults agreed with the statement that relevant education for children to ensure their protection in cyberspace needs to begin in early childhood and primary school. At the same time, most parents are concerned that, for various reasons, such as insufficient understanding of the topic, lack of knowledge of the law, absence of special manuals and materials, etc., they would not be able to cope on their own in this area of education. Rigid restrictions to prevent the ‘computer danger’ often cause parent-child conflicts, which could then potentially lead to intense confrontation and even a tragedy.
The major problem is the lack of preventive and educational tools designed for children, parents and specialists. For many years, the Centre of Social and Educational Initiatives has been working at the implementation of the specially developed programme "Cyber Traffic Light: From Education to User Culture and Lawful Behaviour". It allowed to create enlightening and active tools to work with parents and close relatives of younger schoolchildren and preschoolers (“Cyber Traffic Light Tips or Traveling to the Internet World”, “Rules of Safe Behaviour in Cyberspace: Discuss With Your Children”). Besides, the programme also managed to involve children themselves in the work on promoting a better understanding of online safety measures. Schoolchildren teams created educational cartoons and took part in screenings followed by a discussion – “Petja on the Net” by Kristina Novikova (Votkinsk), “Warning: Internet!” by Anna Vakhrusheva, Polad Ismailov and Samira Ismailova (Izhevsk), "The New Adventures of Buratino on the Net" by Ekaterina Sitnikova (Izhevsk).
Surveys among participants of educational programmes show that parents should pay more attention to communication with their children and family leisure. It is also certain that systems of formal and non-formal education today need to develop comprehensive practice-orientated Internet security programmes for children and their parents.