Nurture cyberkids to cut risks, UN agencies urge
CYBERKIDS, beware: When it comes to information and communications technology (ICT), the higher the use, the greater risk exposure, whether in the form of content, conduct or contact.
This reality was presented during a recent international conference on children’s rights in the digital age where the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) stressed the need for “a clear understanding of the risks” and the need “to build children’s resilience to deal with them.”
During the Unesco-Unicef Asia-Pacific Consultation on “Policies and Initiatives to Promote Children’s Safe, Effective and Responsible Use of ICT” from Sept. 9-11 in Bangkok, where the Philippines was represented by this writer, 60 representatives from various governments, international groups, nongovernment organizations, tech corporations, parents and students came together to suggest policy guidelines for effective ICT use in the region.
The meeting was held at the Pullman Hotel in the Thai capital.
As of 2014, almost 38 million out of 100 million Filipinos regularly go online, two-thirds of them below the age of 30.
According to EU Kids Online, 66 percent of youth in 33 countries regularly use the Internet in their own bedrooms. Sixty percent of Australian children aged 5 or below use touch-screen devices, said Donell Holloway and Lelia Green of Edith Cowan University. “New touch and swipe technologies make it possible for the 0 to 4’s to use the Internet before walking and talking,” they said.
What lessons were learned from the meeting, and more importantly, what can be done?
One of the points raised was the need to understand the views of the youth on ICT, before creating digital citizenship programs. Another point, nurture young digitally-savvy models.
Many schools and parents have a knee-jerk reaction to ICT: the former require digital tablets for their students and the latter purchase smartphones for their young kids before teaching or modeling proper use.
When problems arise, they hastily sanction online cheating or gaming, or ban these devices altogether.
In our book “Growing Up Wired,” our team of Ateneo de Manila University and Miriam College researchers based our recommendations on a study of 4,000 Filipino high school students. Many of the best practices came from teens and tweens themselves, with input from families and schools.
There is a need to strengthen national child protection systems, such as justice, social welfare, education, health and ICT, the participants in the conference agreed.
Out of 22 countries in a Unesco Asia-Pacific survey, only eight have a national agency to coordinate and evaluate various government efforts. These are Bangladesh, Brunei, China, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and Uzbekistan.
More than half of the countries do not provide a national budget or a national program for digital citizenship. School campaigns have been created, but focus and implementation vary widely.
The promotion of ICT innovation to address digital issues was also raised. Globally, civic groups are at the forefront of digital citizenship issues.
The International Society for Technology in Education has developed standards and made available digital education resources for teachers and students worldwide.
In the Philippines, the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization Innotech’s Mobile Technology Toolkit on Cybersafety and Emotional Intelligence helps teachers, parents and students deal with “infollution” (information pollution) and promote cybersafety.
iKeepSafe, a global alliance of more than 100 policy leaders, educators, law enforcers and public health experts, continuously tracks IT trends on cybersecurity and cyberwellness.
Working with industry to promote a healthy ICT environment for the youth was also discussed. In 2008, the UN’s International Telecommunications Union (ITU) launched the Child Online Protection Initiative, calling on industry to “identify, prevent and mitigate any adverse impacts of their products and services on children’s rights.”
ITU has identified the following risks for kids going online: child abuse, child pornography, sexual solicitation and cybergrooming, online and gaming addiction, cyberbullying, cyberstalking, phishing attacks, youth-to-youth cybercrimes, anorexia, self-harm or suicide, online fraud, disclosure of private information and spam.
To counter these threats, ITU has formulated guidelines for the following: mobile operators; Internet service providers; content providers; online retailers; app developers; user-generated content, interactive and social media service providers; national and public service broadcasting; hardware manufacturers; operating system developers; and app stores.
Intel Thailand, for its part, has come up with a Digital Wellness Curriculum. In July 2015, Intel India has also issued an Online Challenge to discover cyberwellness champions. Almost 1 million youth joined the competition, done in collaboration with the government, Unesco, schools and civic groups.
Google Asia Pacific has created its own online safety tools: SafeSearch in Google Search; Safety Mode in YouTube; content rating and filtering in Android; teen settings; and notifications in Google+.
Google also shares these five tips: “Think before you share. Protect your stuff. Know and use your settings. Avoid scams. Be positive.”
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