Conquering the Internet Together

Vasilisa Pjescic (6) likes to listen to music, watch cartoons and videos of pandas and giraffes on the internet. She also likes to send messages, photos, drawings of princesses and stickers to her grandmothers using her mobile phone.

Ivana Miljkovic
Preschool teacher Branka and child psychologist Natasa often point out the advantages of using computers to children.
UNICEF Serbia/2019/Vas

06 August 2019

Belgrade, 6 August 2019 - Six-year-old Vasilisa Pjescic likes to listen to music, watch cartoons and videos of pandas and giraffes on the internet. She also likes to send messages, photos, drawings of princesses and stickers to her grandmothers using her mobile phone.

Vasilisa can turn on the TV by herself and play a cartoon on YouTube. She also knows what she should not do.

“You should not tell strangers your name and where you live, either on the street or on the internet. And if something you don’t want to see appears on your screen or a message from a stranger pops up, you should immediately close it and call mom and dad”, Vasilisa explains confidently. Vasilisa knows all this because, together with her mom Aleksandra, she watched cartoons that are the part of the digital guide for the online safety of children. 

Most children come in contact with digital devices at the age of four.

In her preschool, together with 50 of her peers and their parents, Vasilisa and her mother took part in workshops organized within the Safe internet for the entire family – smart from the start project, which was launched by UNICEF and Telenor, and is implemented in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development and the Uzice Child Rights Centre.  

“Although we already knew a lot about the advantages and disadvantages of the internet, after the workshops we started paying more attention to what our children are watching on the computer or phone and how much time they spent online”, says Aleksandra.

Vasilisa asks her mom and preschool teachers about everything she wants to know about computers and the internet.
UNICEF Serbia/2019/Vas
Vasilisa asks her mom and preschool teachers about everything she wants to know about computers and the internet.

Most children come in contact with digital devices at the age of four. At around five, they start using computers and phones, and two out of three parents and preschool teachers lack knowledge and skills to protect children from possible abuse, show the results of the study conducted within the project “Safe internet for the entire family”.

“When Vasilisa was one and a half, I used to let her watch cartoons while she was eating. As she was growing up, she almost became addicted to them. Now we have set limits for her – one cartoon in the morning, one in the afternoon”, says Aleksandra.

“Some preschool-aged children already know how to download games from the internet and install them.”

Branka Paunovic is one of several preschool teachers who have participated in trainings about internet safety.

“Today, children know a lot about the internet and computers, but little about how to use them safely and how to protect themselves. Some children are informed, they know how to act in the virtual world, but there are also those who are not that informed because mobiles, tablets and computers are not equally available to everyone. In any case, the preschool age is definitely the right time for them to learn about the advantages and disadvantages of the internet”, believes Branka.

Vasilisa (6) can look for interesting animal videos on the internet only when she’s with her mom.
UNICEF Serbia/2019/Vas
Vasilisa (6) can look for interesting animal videos on the internet only when she’s with her mom.

Both the preschool teachers and parents are aware that children are growing up with modern technologies and that they cannot be deprived of the use of digital devices. It is necessary, they agree, to teach them how to use them creatively and safely.

“Believe it or not, some preschool-aged children already know how to download games from the internet and install them. We are teaching them to recognize the labels telling them whether games are safe for them or not. Through the workshops, we also influenced parents to adapt the content their children are watching, but also to monitor screen time. We have made a significant step forward. Now we have a positive attitude about digital technologies and we are teaching children how to use them as a tool for information, communication, play and the development of skills”, explains this preschool teacher.

Many preschool-aged children already know how to use a mobile phone.
UNICEF Serbia/2019/Vas
Many preschool-aged children already know how to use a mobile phone.

“Learning about online safety is part of child-rearing. We are introducing children to this digital world and we have to teach them how to use it and how to behave within it”, explains Natasa Radojevic, psychologist in the preschool.

She also believes it is very important for educational institutions, preschools and schools, to teach children as much as possible about protection from abuse in the digital world and safe behaviour online.