How youth workers can make the internet a better place for young people

For Safer Internet Day, Liz Green (Workforce and Practice Manager) shares tips and information about how youth workers can make the internet a better place for young people.

Today is Safer Internet Day; the annual event in which people come together worldwide to highlight information, activity and action that can help make the internet a better place for young people. Check out some of the activity through #SaferInternetDay2019 and #SID2019.

In the UK the theme is ‘Consent in the Digital World’, with a focus on exploring what consent and permission mean online. It’s all about relationships, behaviours and critical thinking – how do we manage healthy and consensual relationships online? How do we share images in a way that respects others? And what does it mean when we accept all the permissions within an app? How do we manage our privacy to make sure we have actively chosen what others can see of our lives?

I’m sure these are discussions that come up again and again with young people. These are critical questions for young people to explore and to feel confident that they are in control of their online lives and, as youth workers, we have an important role to play in that process, including helping young people to realise their rights.

New research[i], conducted with young people aged 8-17, commissioned by the UK Safer Internet Centre shows a conflicting picture:

  • Sharing content online seen as critical to connecting with the world and making a positive difference
  • A lack of clarity around consent causes confusion and young people struggle to navigate ‘the rules’
  • Figures show a mismatch between young people’s attitudes to online sharing, and their actions

Internet Safety and Cyber Resilience – what’s the difference?

‘Internet Safety’ is about being safe and protected online and can be seen as a part of wider ‘Cyber Resilience’ which includes being able to prepare for, withstand and recover from attacks, incidents or accidents in the online world.

Differentiating between the terms in practice:

Youth workers are likely to place great emphasis on “internet safety” — those issues that pose immediate threats, such as cyberbullying, the dangers of grooming through social media, or blackmail over explicit photographs. 

Youth workers might also explore issues of wider cyber resilience with children and young people, developing critical faculties around password strength and how to spot phishing emails and text messages; explaining the latest threats to public services through ransomware, or to businesses of data theft, so that children and young people can start to consider themselves as future cyber resilient employers/employees, or as owners of cyber resilient businesses.

How do we address this as Youth Workers?

The EU Expert Group on Digitalisation and Youth highlights a number of areas of competence for youth workers to help young people be safer online, linking closely with themes around consent and resilience:

  • To be able to encourage young people to make informed decisions about how they want to portray themselves and engage online, who they want to share their content with and how to control this by using privacy settings
  • To be able to help young people to understand the terms and conditions of digital services and ownership of their data
  • To be able to help young people deal with problems they have encountered in digital settings, for example cyberbullying, grooming, sexting and exposure to content they find upsetting or shocking. To be able to refer young people on to appropriate support services if necessary
  • To be able to help young people minimise the environmental impact of digital technologies and their use
  • To be able to establish appropriate professional boundaries in their online relationships with young people

What is YouthLink Scotland doing?

We want youth workers to feel confident in addressing cyber resilience and internet safety issues with young people: to be able to help them think critically and make healthier choices and understand their rights and those of others. This is just like the youth work role in other areas of young people’s lives, such as drugs and alcohol use, sex and relationships, money management.

We have two projects on the go which relate to youth work in a digital age:

Digital Youth Work – this European strategic partnership has a collection of films of good practices in digital youth work, from film-making to gaming and coding camps to online group work. In spring we will be launching training resources for digital youth work and we are working to bring the Digitally Agile National Principles to life at a European level.

Safe, Secure and Empowered – we are working with partners from across and beyond the CLD family to develop guidance and support to build cyber resilience conversations into youth work, adult learning and community work. In spring we will share resources and signposts to organisations for more help and trusted info. Watch this space!

Today we are holding a Safe, Secure and Empowered session in our office, exploring creative ways to talk about good passwords and why they matter. We aim for this project to build youth workers’ cyber resilience and to help you support young people’s cyber resilient behaviours.

Where can I get info and support?

The Safer Internet Day website has loads of resources itself and there are fantastic materials on Think u know? and BBC own it all with short films you can discuss with young people.

Young Scot have a Digi, Aye? resource are launching their new DigiKnow? page today.

You may want to connect with your local Police Scotland colleagues, e.g. campus cops, who are keen to support youth workers around internet safety and cyber resilience.

And of course feel free to get in touch with YouthLink Scotland – Liz Green and Claire Dunn are your key contacts for Digital Youth Work.

[i] Our Internet, Our Choice: Understanding Consent in a Digital World, UK Safer Internet Centre, 2019

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