The Byron Review; E-Safety Internet Recommendations for Children
Across the pond, Dr. Tanya Byron, a Consultant Clinical Psychologist, recently released an important set of E-safety recommendations for children. Her report, “Safer Children in a Digital World,” was commissioned by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in 2007 in response to growing concerns about the dangers of the Internet.
Ms. Byron’s recommendations appear, dare we say it, “spot on.” She calls on all parties; the tech industry, government agencies (education, legal), and most importantly, parents and families, to work collaboratively on the issue of E-safety.
Perhaps the most compelling aspect of her research as well as her recommendations is her sophisticated and global approach to the issue. Noting the inherent risk/reward nature of both the Internet and video gaming, Byron properly refrains from oversimplifying the matter.
Today we begin with a review of her research and the recommendations she makes regarding Internet safety. In a follow-up post, we will take a look at her research regarding video games.
Calls Parents To Task
In her report, Byron certainly is not afraid of upsetting parents, calling to attention the fact that many parents simply are not doing due diligence in regards to E-safety. “Many parents seem to believe that when their child is online it is similar to them watching television,” states Byron. “In fact it is more like opening the front door and letting your child go outside to play unsupervised.”
At the same time, the clinical psychologist recognizes the need for children to take risks, that it is an important aspect of their development as young people. One key aspect “of today’s risk-averse culture” notes Byron is that parents are “more inclined to keep children ‘indoors’ despite their developmental needs to socialize and take risks.”
But with a clear understanding of the typical behavior of youngsters the researcher states, “Children will be children – pushing boundaries and taking risks. As we increasingly keep our children at home because of fears for their safety outside” our children will tend to “play out their developmental drives to socialize” with the Internet and “take risks in the digital world.”
As with the recent Grand Theft Childhood study, Byron notes the complexities parents face with both the Internet and the current gaming culture. “Findings from the evidence show that the potential risks online are closely correlated with potential benefits.” Therefore, Byron strongly suggests a collaborative effort to minimize risks without removing the potential benefits of online access.
What Can Be Done to Increase E-Safety
According to Byron, “Everyone has a role to play in empowering children to stay safe while they enjoy these new technologies, just as it is everyone’s responsibility to keep children safe in the non-digital world. This new culture of responsibility spans parents, children and young people supported by Government, industry and the public.”
In regards to the Internet, Byron proposes a three prong approach to improve child safety when online. The three specific areas seek first to reduce the availability of improper materials, second, restrict access to such materials, and third, increase the resilience of children to harmful and inappropriate online material.
The first area could prove more controversial as it in essence creates possible regulations though Byron seeks to have these regulations come in the form of voluntary codes of practice for the industry. In this arena, Byron seeks a reduction in availability of harmful and inappropriate material “in the most popular part of the internet.” Byron recommends that search providers such as Google and Yahoo incorporate a ’safe search’ button that is prominently displayed on the search engine page. In addition, users should have the option of a “lock button” to ensure safe search options. Along with the button, Byron recommends that every search engine offer clear links “to child safety information and safe search settings on the front page of their website.”
In addition to seeking assistance from the search engine giants, Byron recommends that all home computers sold in the UK be equipped with standard parental control software specifically designed with clear prompts and explanations to help engage the parental control options. At the same time, Byron adds that all Internet Service Providers should prominently offer parental control options during the set up of any Internet connection.
From there, Byron turns to the appropriate education of parents and all adults who work with children. The notion is one of education as her recommended focus is on raising the “knowledge, skills and understanding around e-safety of children, parents and other responsible adults.” Essentially, Byron properly notes that parents also have a key role to play in managing a child’s proper Internet usage.
In her research, the consultant often found that higher Internet skill levels in children gave these youngsters greater confidence regarding Internet use. Yet, many of those same youngsters did not have either the maturity or have sufficient awareness to ensure they are actually safe online. Byron throws this issue into the lap of parents stating, “Parents either underestimate or do not realize how often children and young people come across potentially harmful and inappropriate material on the internet and are often unsure about what they would do about it.” For Byron, it is time parents became fully aware of the risks, learn what steps they should take to ensure greater E-safety, and then subsequently implement those steps.
Next Byron turns to schools and other child service providers to play a key role in helping children and their parents stay safe online. The consultant indicates that schools should deliver e-safety through the standard school curriculum. Byron indicates it is essential that children learn how to protect themselves (distributing private information, giving out contact details online, etc.). Here she seeks to build children’s resilience to any material to which they may be exposed. Youngsters need to have both the confidence and the skills to ensure their own online safety.
In regards to these extensive education programs, Byron refers to an “authoritative ‘one stop shop’ for child internet safety” based on extensive research regarding what different groups of users want.
In regards to E-safety on the Internet, Byron provides a compelling case for a collaborative approach to protecting children. The writer properly notes that “restricting children’s access to harmful and inappropriate material is not just a question of what industry can do to protect children.”
Such E-safety is the responsibility of parents, teachers, government officials and the technology industry collectively. Only when these groups seek to work in concert will we be able to truly protect our most vulnerable assets, our children.
Internet safety photo by Bionic teaching.
Author: Tom Hanson, OpenEducation Blog, 31st March 2008
[More from this author soon.]
Article available here.