Online safety is not a new concern – The roots of online safety.

Online safety

“As adults, we instinctively know how to protect our children offline, we often assume that their greater technological expertise will ensure they can look after themselves online, but knowledge is not the same as wisdom.”
Tanya Byron, 2008

The issues surrounding online safety were given notable recognition in 2008 by Professor Tanya Byron in her report to the government. It outlined the needs of children and young people and their right to take risks by accessing the internet and playing video games as an inherent part of their development, whilst recognising their right to do so safely.

Taking risks

Taking risks is an important part of growth and development, and it can promote learning. The experience, pleasure and resilience gained from learning to ride a bicycle are appropriate rewards for the risk of a few grazed knees, for example.

However, knowledge alone is not the same as developing context and awareness of danger. When online, children may be more developed in terms of understanding the technology, but we should remember that knowledge and wisdom are not the same things, as Byron points out in her report.

‘Knowledge is not the same as wisdom’; knowing how to do something is not the same as understanding it.

Byron was able to categorise risks by type in her report, and these categories are still widely used today: content, contact, and conduct.

The very fact that the core message of Dr Byron’s report is still applicable is encouraging. Despite the passing of over a decade it would seem that the principles of safety remain the same. This raises the optimistic view that if we can teach children to recognise when:

  • The content they are viewing is inappropriate
  • They are engaging in inappropriate contact
  • The way they are behaving online is inappropriate

Then we may be able to educate them to respond appropriately and avoid the risk these activities present.

‘Digital immigrants and digital natives’ – Marc Prensky, 2001

The term ‘digital native’ is used to describe someone born during or after the rise of digital technologies. Conversely, ‘digital immigrants’ are those who were born before the daily integration of digital technologies. This creates a ‘digital divide’, with natives having a casual acceptance of the integration of technology into their daily lives, and immigrants needing to work harder to constantly adjust to changes.

While children, with their natural curiosity, may find new ways to use technology quickly and take risks along the way, adults might simply be more inclined to use technology as needed, such as for work, current events, or keeping in touch with friends and relatives.

It is interesting to compare the idea of being a digital native with the actuality of today’s internet.

As the technology has advanced and the availability of online has increased, the idea of the digital citizen has become a reality. Children born in the 21st Century may go through their whole lives and never experience a world without access to the internet.

However, despite the advancements in technology, the cultural changes prompted by digital access and the home and school environment response to the availability of the internet, the principles of safeguarding children in the digital world have not changed. The application of those principles must be adjusted to meet the current needs.