Online expert: Focus on empowerment rather than restriction
Building skills and making children responsible Internet users is a challenge; still, it is a better strategy than a restrictive approach to usage.
by Rune H. Rasmussen
Children are eager Internet users, and they go online for the first time at increasingly younger ages. The 2010 EU Kids Online survey showed that, across Europe, 93 per cent of 9-16 year old users go online at least weekly, while 60 per cent use the Internet everyday or almost every day. These numbers leave no doubt that the Internet is thoroughly embedded in children’s everyday lives, and with this, a number of challenges follow.
Dr Brian O’Neill of Dublin Institute of Technology’s faculty of arts and tourism is the Irish contact for the EU Kids Online project. In a recent speech at the Merriman Summer School in Ireland, Dr O’Neill said that the increased Internet use among children, and the fact that children go online at a younger and younger age, are challenges that cannot be tackled solely by a restrictive approach to usage.
Emphasise responsible behaviour
Dr O’Neill pointed out that there are two policy discourses at odds with one another in the debate on Internet use. One focuses on mediation and protection, while the other puts an emphasis on building skills in order to enable children to use the Internet responsibly.
He said a strategy needed to be built around “a focus on empowerment rather than restriction of children’s usage, emphasising responsible behaviour and digital citizenship, treating children as a competent, participatory group . . . [and] . . . encouraging self-governing behaviour”.
“It is a challenge, but it is an absolutely necessary one,” Dr O’Neill said.
Even though there are several strong international efforts to improve online security, there is no denying that, when it comes down to individual use, it is the responsibility of the single user to use the Internet responsibly and to its full potential.
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