Today, 5 February is Safer Internet Day and we're celebrating our tenth anniversary. At the UK Safer Internet Centre we organise Safer Internet Day for the UK, and across the country this Day is being marked by a whole host of schools, charities, industry and more, engaging in a wide range of activities, with everyone collectively using the opportunity to reach out as widely as possible. It's an important opportunity for everyone to take a moment and reflect on how they are using technology and this year, to 'Connect with Respect.'
As part of paying tribute to a decade of digital safety, we have launched the results of our 'Have your Say' survey - the UK's largest ever study of young people's attitudes towards online rights and responsibilities - based on views of over 24,000 children and young people from across the UK.
This has reaffirmed that young people of all ages are enjoying the benefits of the internet as well as seeing that they have a role to play in making it a better and safer place. They are throwing themselves into a wide range of activities online, enabling them to discover and access a wide range of content, connect with their friends and family, as well as offering the potential to create and distribute their own creative content.
Nearly nine out of 10 seven-to-11 year olds use some form of online communication tool. These include social networks and virtual worlds (56%), chat functions in online gaming (38%), or webcams (28%). Seven-11s are also digital creators with nearly a third having created a game online and more than one in 10 having created an app. The internet is a key part of school work, with most seven-11s (94%) saying they have little trouble finding information for their school work on the internet.
And secondary age children are even more prolific online communicators with 96% of young people aged 11-19 using some form of online communication tool, ranging from social networks (74%) to emails (72%), instant messaging (68%), webcams (52%), chat in online gaming (45%), chat rooms (17%) and blogs (14%).
However, while young people's engagement with the internet is thriving, there is still more that can be done to make it a safe and fun place for them to be. Just over a third of seven-19 year olds have come into contact with content that upsets or worries them online. And over a third of 11-19s said online adverts are hindering their enjoyment of the internet, while nearly a quarter of the same age group cited gossip or mean comments being shared online as an issue for them.
So, how can we make the internet better for young people? From our research, we believe there are a number of ways to strengthen support networks for young people online:
Empowering Parents, Teachers, Carers and Young People with e-safety education. There is a role for everyone in keeping young people safe online. Parents play a key role in supporting young people, and overall across all seven-19s, parents are the most likely people who children and young people will turn to. However, there are roles for others. Some 27% of seven-11 year olds would turn to their grandparent and 43% of primary and 25% of secondary aged pupils would tell a teacher.
Friends also have a very important role to play as one third of seven-11s turn to their friends when they need help. At 14, friends become the most important people for teens to turn to and remain very important as teens get older. This highlights the need to ensure that all those who children turn to are empowered to respond in an informed and constructive manner. This will further encourage children that telling someone else is indeed the right thing to do.
Privacy and reporting tools are important to young people. There are gaps in young people's understanding of the tools that are available to them. Although three quarters of 11-19s who use social networks said that they are using privacy tools, there is some confusion and 9% are not using them due to lack of skills and understanding. Young people need to be supported to use the privacy settings and also the reporting and blocking tools that services provide.
Young people have a responsibility too. As well as their online rights, young people also recognise their own responsibilities online; to think about the consequences of their online actions, to be kind and not bully others, and to support friends to stay safe online. All age groups said that one of the main things that stops them enjoying their time online is mean comments; e-safety education needs to recognise this and work to ensure young people understand their responsibilities to others online. This year's focus for Safer Internet Day, 'Connect with Respect', is an important message for all ages, and this message needs to continue being promoted beyond Safer Internet Day.
In order to deliver a safer internet in the future, we must take a holistic approach to internet safety across industry, educators, families and young people. And by setting out the vision laid out by young people themselves, we hope that Safer Internet Day 2013 will provide a framework for us all to make the internet a safer place to be.
Will Gardner is the CEO of Childnet International, a children's charity working to help make the internet a great and safe place for children. He is a lead partner at the UK Safer Internet Centre who organise Safer Internet Day in the UK.
Follow Will Gardner on Twitter: www.twitter.com/UK_SIC