NYCI is delighted to support Safer Internet Day! Although Safer Internet Day undoubtedly focuses us annually on the importance of staying safe online, understanding how the internet works and how to get the best and most positive experience from it is increasingly an all year round (and daily!) endeavour. It is especially important to ensure children and young people are safe in the online world and we want to support the youth workers in their lives by giving them the knowledge and tools to do this.
With the generous support of Accenture, NYCI has recently facilitated the delivery of a month-long course developed by CyberSafeKids, covering all the major aspects of Developing Digital Media Literacy and how to better develop it in our young people. The first iteration of the course finished in December, and the pilot project will be completed by the end of January; over 60 NYCI-affiliated youth workers will have been successfully trained through these two courses. This project grew initially from previous collaborations with CyberSafeKids, an Irish charity which has been delivering online safety education to children and adults since 2015.
We now live out significant portions of our lives online. Adults living and working in the digital age require increasingly sophisticated skills and knowledge in the use of technology to carry out their jobs and connect with users. According to a 2017 survey by the Central Statistics Office, the percentage of the Irish population aged 16 to 74 years old that have basic or above basic overall digital skills has remained constant in the years 2015 and 2016 at 44% (The Wellbeing of the Nation Societal Wellbeing in Ireland 2017 Report). Over the past year our lives have been restricted to the home and many of us were physically isolated from friends, family and colleagues. We leaned heavily on online platforms to work, socialise and find entertainment.
This is also true of young people who were born in a digital age and utilise technology with great ease, but also can approach the online world with naivety when it comes to potential areas of harm and risk. As the majority of their written and visual information now comes from the online world, it’s increasingly important to develop their critical thinking skills and digital media literacy to combat both the short and long-term negative effects of online phenomena such as misinformation, algorithms, deep fake technology and image manipulation.
Adults who are also parents, carers and educators often feel children and young people are way ahead of them in relation to technology, and this can be a challenge in terms of being able to support, advise, monitor and set limits around children and young people’s online use. Children are often referred to as “digital natives”, which is a highly misleading term as it implies not only fluency in use of technology, which may be true, but also an inherent understanding of the risks of the online environment, which is simply not the case. We must equip both children and adults who care for them with the skills and knowledge to safely and smartly navigate the online world through robust digital media literacy education and critical thinking approaches.
Whilst the basics of staying secure online such as strong passwords and understanding privacy are still essential, as the internet continues to evolve there are more subtle, nuanced risks of which both young people and adults need to be aware. Under the umbrella of Developing Digital Media Literacy, this joint NYCI and CyberSafeKids initiative covered Cyberbullying, Digital Footprint, Understanding Digital Literacy and Responsible Digital Citizenship in 4 interactive, workshop-style sessions conducted via Zoom, through a series of breakout discussions and practical activities for participants to take and use in their own youth work settings.
To find out more about the work of CyberSafeKids and their services, visit www.cybersafekids.ie