Safe digital networks
Digital network technologies are a fundamental space for children and adolescents to grow up in safe environments, free of violence
Digital network technologies have an increasingly relevant role in the development of our lives. They are a fundamental space for children and adolescents to grow up in safe environments, free of violence, where they can reach their full potential and have the ability to contribute to society.
These notes are a resource for parents and other family members to support children and adolescents in solving the challenges associated with the use of devices, network platforms and digital games, as well as to train them to learn the skills to fully develop in these scenarios and contribute to their protection and that of others.
Network digital technologies are those devices, websites, applications and associated cultural practices and values that enable forms of information exchange in connection with other devices and systems. These include cell phones, computers, video game consoles, social media sites and messaging applications.
Myths about the use of ICTs by children and adolescents
- They learn on their own: By interacting from an earlier age with existing technologies, they are more likely to appropriate a set of skills, mainly technical. However, the scenario of digital network technologies increasingly demands new and complex knowledge that requires the support of adults, schools and public institutions to build capacities in order to coexist safely and fully. At the same time, an opportunity to undertake a learning experience together is not always possible.
- They fully master these technologies: Many children and adolescents do not have or have not had access to digital technologies or adequate training to use them fully and safely. Even if they possess some skills, no one is exempt from being challenged by the changing speed of technologies and their uses, while some are at a particular disadvantage to seize the opportunities these technologies offer or to live with them safely.
- They only use it to play: Digital technologies provide access to multiple playful experiences that enrich the lives of children and adolescents, but they are also a space for socialization, learning and innovative creativity. In the same way, contacts, access to inappropriate content or behaviors that may jeopardize their safety and well-being may occur.
- They know what not to do: It is important that family members, friends and teachers do not assume that the conditions are in place for children and adolescents to have a safe and healthy experience with digital technologies and networks. Sharing, being interested and learning together are ways to connect to their experiences with digital devices and spaces, without resorting to excessive control methods. Networked digital technologies are a fundamental opportunity to grow up in a healthy and safe way.
Online risks and harms children and adolescents are exposed to
a) Harm caused by online content (the child or adolescent is a passive recipient of pornographic or sexually harmful content)
b) Harm caused by online contact (the child or adolescent is engaged by an adult or another child in activities such as sexual abuse, cyberbullying or being photographed and his or her images subsequently disseminated for online grooming).
c) Behavioral harm (the child or adolescent actively initiates dangerous or criminal behavior, e.g., creating or uploading pornographic material, physically meeting an adult he or she has met online, posting images of himself or herself or another minor online, downloading images of child sexual abuse or bullying)
The detrimental experience that may be caused due to the daily use of networked digital technologies also deserves attention.
Prolonged screen time, misinformation and hate speeches, permanent consumption of satisfying or stressful contents suggested by algorithmic systems of network platforms or social pressure to perform some actions, are some of the experiences to which all users are commonly exposed. In the case of children and adolescents, special attention and support should be provided, so they can learn how to handle these situations.
Digital identity and footprint
- Who do you want to be in networked digital spaces? How do I want to be recognized by others? Can the information I share affect the development of my future social life?
- The information we leave on digital networks is stored and can be retrieved by anyone who has access to it, as well as endlessly distributed by multiple people.
- Therefore, the information we share about ourselves should safeguard the privacy of our personal lives, particularly that of children and adolescents who may be exposed to malicious or criminal use.
- Posting photographs, tagging places we visit, or entering data about the child in online applications are a way of sharing with friends. However, children and adolescents are not usually taken into account when adults share information about them in public, information that is stored and shared on the network even until they reach adulthood.
- It is essential to review the data requested or silently extracted by the applications, games and pages we use.
- Practices such as live streaming or the use of location tags can compromise our privacy and that of our loved ones, it is worth using them judiciously. The example set by adults is paramount in establishing conversations about the ways in which teens represent themselves on networks.
- Managing the need for peers’ approval in social networks is one of the most challenging experiences for adolescents.
- Digital networking platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, promote exchanges based on approval as a way of relating. Many children and adolescents reproduce social models that are based on generating content and attitudes to achieve these forms of approval constantly, in the form of followers, how many times a content is shared or comments. In many cases, this has led to self-esteem or behavioral disorders. Learning to live in a network without depending on these mechanisms is a much more enriching way to take advantage of the opportunities of this space.
- The idea of having a duty to others in these spaces often causes them to feel pressures from crowds and external people that lead to stressful situations or actions that are not really desired.
- Celebrity and public figures in social media have become highly valued by young people as role models. In some cases, their influence is based on marketing practices and professional communication teams that create content to generate a constant following, purchase of products or validation of certain ideas that do not always promote a full and healthy life.
- Talking openly about these issues, without reprimands or prejudices, analyzing real situations as a family is a good way to build critical thinking and decide what we want to be in the public network space.
Stress and fatigue when consuming information in digital networks:
- The ways in which digital networks present contents focus on those we pay attention to more frequently, particularly those contents generated by the people with whom we interact more on those platforms. This leads us to isolate ourselves in filter bubbles of the same topic or points of view, which limits our understanding of processes. On many occasions, we only see content that stresses us or provokes an emotional reaction.
- Children and adolescents are exposed to this phenomenon as much as adults, but they need even more emotional, analytical and practical technology use resources that will allow them to circumvent these mechanisms.
- A balanced media diet that takes into account different sources, pages and points of view; collective and enriching conversation on complex issues, as well as screen time breaks, are basic practices to face these challenges.
- Disinformation (ranging from fake news to incomplete, decontextualized content or based exclusively on thoughtless humor, clickbait headlines) is also a phenomenon that affects children and adolescents as an active part of society.
- Encouraging critical thinking and active, rather than exclusively individual, reception of information will help individuals grow up with independence and greater ability to contribute to their environment.
One of the main challenges to using devices is being able to regulate the time we spend in front of screens.
How much screen time is too much? There is no standard amount of time, as it depends on the activities being performed.
- One of the symptoms that the experience begins to be harmful is feeling stress when separated from the devices.
- Lack of interest when starting new tasks or interacting with friends and family.
- Concentration problems, mood disturbances and visual exhaustion.
- They are often in contradiction with sleep and rest times.
- The more screen time, the greater the exposure to harmful content and exchanges.
Some ideas on how to manage screen time:
- Manage risks openly and honestly, without bias.
- Agree on times of use and spaces where devices are not present, for example meal times or play times.
- Consider how screen time can be complemented with other activities.
- Help them prioritize tasks within the time available.
- Set a good example.
Video games and digital well-being:
Video games are a common practice among children, adolescents and adults around the world. They can often serve as a stimulus to learning and cognitive development. They also bring the benefits of collective fun. However, they can also be related to cases of addiction, relationship with inappropriate content, even inappropriate contact by adults.
Bear in mind that:
- Home is the fundamental space where girls, boys and adolescents play, however, they mostly play alone and learn without accompaniment.
- Many games are played in networks among several people. This allows them to socialize, share their joys and even give you the opportunity to join in their experience.
- However, it is also a less supervised space where inappropriate adult contacts occur.
- Video games are mainly referred to children and adolescents by their peers. They may also suffer pressure from friends to be in the space or meet certain goals.
Some ideas for navigating the challenges of interacting with video games:
- Share and discover together the games and topics that motivate your child. Ask your children to teach you how to use them. Talk without prejudice and have fun together.
- Take the lead in choosing what to watch and discuss it.
- Discuss schedules, insist on taking breaks.
- Don't make play a reward for completing ordinary activities. Don't penalize their actions by making the game unavailable.
- Ask him/her about something that worries you. Look for similar situations of others and discuss them together.
- Check if games or other users ask for sensitive information.
- Discuss the content's references and implications for violence, sexual depictions, or success patterns.
- Encourage him to try something different when you feel his/her time is only devoted to a single activity.
Pornography is content that is increasingly easy to access by children and adolescents from their own searches on digital networks or socializing with friends or adults. The latter constitutes a form of abuse.
Many times, the first representations of sexual life are often associated with the consumption of pornographic content that promotes biased views of this for a commercial purpose.
- Women are often objectified.
- A false idea of consensus and pleasure may be presented.
- Sexual practices are described with unrealistic patterns according to the commercial audiovisual proposal.
- In many occasions, they can produce negative feelings towards one's own body or that of others, generating difficulties for the beginning of sexual life.
In this sense, it is useful to:
- Talk about it with balanced criteria and without prejudices.
- Talk about stereotypes.
- Help them identify what is real and what is not.
- Make them feel at ease when talking to you about what makes them feel uncomfortable.
- Discuss when to block or unfollow a site.
- Use forms of parental controls if you feel it is appropriate.
Cyberbullying is bullying by means of networked digital technologies. It seeks to annoy, frighten or humiliate people. It can occur through social networking sites, messaging platforms or games.
- Disseminating lies or photographs that damage a person's public image.
- Sending hurtful or rude messages.
- Impersonating another person and sending inappropriate content.
- Insisting on teasing and taunting someone even though they have asked not to.
What can we do?
- Help children and adolescents feel self-confident and able to cope with the challenges of life in the digital space in a way that helps them prevent stress or depression due to possible harmful exchanges.
- The moment of greatest harassment pressure is usually short, and can be solved by taking a break from the devices and cutting or reevaluating the relationships with those who bully.
- After that moment of reflection, it is possible to support children and adolescents so that he/she can see the possible answers or solutions to the situation, if necessary.
Photo exchange - Sexting:
The exchange of photos has become a very common way for adolescents and young people to relate sexually.
- Situations resulting from harmful exchanges have an effect on the self-esteem and sexual health of the individuals involved.
- So-called revenge porn, or the distribution of photos of a partner to third parties without their consent, is a recurrent practice that affects many adolescents. It is legally punishable in many countries, and people of any biological sex, age, sexual orientation or emotional bond can do it or be exposed to it.
- Adolescent girls, however, are often the most affected.
- It is important for adolescents to feel that they can count on the support and guidance of their family members at the beginning of their sexual life for a healthy development.
- It is fundamental they do not feel fear of punishment or shame for sharing with you something that worries them, because then they may begin to hide them.
- Talking frankly and without prejudice about the possible consequences is the main way to prevent situations harmful to their well-being.
- It is important to keep in mind that sharing photographs of an adult with a child constitutes sexual abuse and is punishable by law.
When should we be concerned about this?
- Adolescents feel pressured to share photos of themselves or another person.
- Sexual or nude images have been shared in non-private spaces, such as social networking sites or group chat rooms. Fake network accounts often appear using such photos to promote sexual business.
- The child or adolescent has shared or solicited sexual images of another person for this purpose.
In most of these cases, it is essential to seek psychological and legal support.
What to do if a sexual photo of a child has been shared?
- Talk to your children, listen to them without reprimands and help them feel accompanied, protected and aware of how to face and solve the problem.
- Ask the necessary questions to be able to recover the content and detect if there was a case of abuse.
- Patiently, check that the content is not public and cannot be accessed in search engines of websites such as Google or others, and in search engines of social networking and messaging sites such as Facebook or Telegram.
- Contact the person who has the content and demand that they remove or delete it.
- Take evidence of the conversations and close any new contacts.
- You can do the same on networking platforms that contain the information. Most usually have instruction sites on this.
- Do not take their mobile device away or close their communications, it is at this time that they need help the most.
- Talk about how to cope with the situation. Make them feel that their self-esteem does not depend on this circumstance.
- The crisis time associated with these events usually lasts a week. It is important for the affected person to understand that this is a finite time circumstance that becomes irrelevant.
- Assess whether the situation has legal implications and take that step after discussing it with the affected person.
- Ask for support from the educational staff to cope with any bullying scenario.
Grooming and sexual abuse through digital networking spaces:
Grooming is a form of exchange for sexual purposes by adults towards children or adolescents. They are a form of abuse that can happen through digital networks.
Accessing people nearby or around the world at any time of the day, through different types of services and devices that allow chat and exchange of information (such as games, messaging networks or email), is a common practice that involves dangers to which children are exposed.
It is the responsibility of family members, teachers and friends to protect children and adolescents in this circumstance.
Acts that constitute sexual abuse include:
- Exposing naked adults and children on webcam.
- Encouraging children to chat about sexual acts or fantasies.
- Asking children to view or share pornography.
- Telling them to perform a sexual act or expose themselves to a sexual act.
It is important to know that:
- Victims of sexual abuse can be of any economic status, age, gender or have different skills using networked digital technologies.
- They rarely go to their parents as a first option in case of sexual abuse for fear of losing their devices, scolding or humiliation.
- Talking and exchanging on digital networks is in itself an enriching practice, but it needs special supervision by adults.
Some ideas to prevent sexual abuse:
- A relationship of trust and mutual support always helps to prevent circumstances of inappropriate exchange or abuse. It is essential to encourage children and adolescents to identify where they are safe and where they can find help and support.
- Talk openly about the dangers and challenges of the digital environment without prejudice. Connect with the spaces where your child socializes and the people he/she interacts with, both to identify harmful contacts and to share his/her joys.
- Explore the information available on the Internet about children and adolescents, their profiles and the data they leave in games and applications. Remember that pseudonyms and identities other than the real one are frequently used on the Internet.
- Use cameras and devices in public or shared spaces without violating their privacy.
- In any situation of danger, do not make the victim feel guilty or threaten to take their devices away.
Scamming, identity theft or data hacking for different purposes are practices that can be found on digital networks. Children and adolescents may also be exposed to these in order to obtain information about their parents, mostly financial, or about themselves.
Some ideas on how to protect yourself:
- Keep children and adolescents away from data, apps, and if possible, devices where financial activities take place.
- Protect your accounts on social networking sites, email and money management apps with separate passwords. Use strong passwords of at least three types of words and codes. Save the most relevant information in multiple copies.
- Learn collectively about how to prevent scams, password theft and other forms of cybercrime.
- Warn collectively about mass messages or messages from strangers with downloadable content that may contain viruses, in-game purchase systems or surveys for prizes.
- Review and assess the various forms of privacy controls offered by devices and sites. Be aware that many websites, platforms and devices permanently acquire users' personal information. Do not expose any highly sensitive information in these spaces.
Many devices, websites or applications have systems that allow adults to control the activity of children and adolescents on them. These are known as Parental Controls and can be a tool to support education about the use of technologies and to prevent inappropriate circumstances. Screen time, pages that can be accessed, people with whom they exchange, among other functions, can be regulated by these systems.
- Find out about ways to apply parental controls on different devices and applications by searching for information about them in search engines.
- Discuss the presence of parental controls. It can be counterintuitive to discover that you are being unknowingly monitored and affect mutual trust. In addition, it is common for them to learn how to turn it off.
- Geolocation motion tracking systems, or GPS, are tools that can be used for occasional moments of vulnerability. However, it can affect their capacity for independence in situations or rejection of the relationship with the adults in control.
- Use parental control as a complement to prevention through dialogue, accompaniment in daily activities and mutual learning.
Participate fully and safely:
- Children and adolescents can also contribute to spaces where the future and present of the societies they belong to are debated and decided.
- Their vision of the world and innovative action can be fundamental to enrich our views and actions on key issues.
- It is the responsibility of adults to create the capacities and spaces for this practice to develop safely and productively.
- To this end, it is necessary to protect them and teach them to prevent hate speech and other forms of violence on digital network platforms without excluding them from understanding what is happening around them or limiting their freedom to express themselves.
- In particular, it is essential to empower them as protagonists in the protection and education of their peers through the development of tools and skills.
Ideas Plus: What can we do together?
Discover: Browse aimlessly through interesting web pages, encyclopedias (Wikipedia, ECURED), or social networking sites and identify topics and issues that motivate or interest you. Discuss content that connects with you as well as content that is contradictory.
Share: Laugh, comment and rate content together such as memes, videos or songs that are trending.
Play: Explore apps and games that you can enjoy together or individually. Challenge each other and find out what's interesting and what's not in the game. At dinners and family activities, you can play games that combine cell phone use with sharing dynamics, such as challenges, trivia and roulette.
Listen: Ask them to teach you how to perform tasks and search for information with your devices and work activities, take the opportunity to learn and teach at the same time.
Create: Look for viral challenges and activities that you can do together. Sing songs, paint, do sports or physical skills activities, dub songs or dress up. Encourage each other to start a series of audiovisual, photographic or textual stories to share among friends and family.
Collaborate: Join or initiate collaborative actions in communities, institutions or groups of friends you belong to on issues that inspire or concern you.
Safe digital networks