February 9 is the Safer Internet Day, the day established in 2004 by the European Union to raise awareness on the risks that using the Internet can entail, an increasingly complex issue that needs, today even more, a thorough reflection.
According to theultimo report provided byEU Kids Online, an international research network that aims to improve the knowledge of the opportunities, risks and online safety of European minors, Italian children aged between 9 and 17 years they surf online mainly from their own smartphone e 84% do it daily. Not only that, the number of children who have felt annoyed (shocked, uncomfortable or frightened) by something they experienced on the internet has more than doubled, from 6% in 2013 to 13% in 2017 (and from 3% to 13% between 9 and 10 years). The most common risk is being exposed to malicious user-generated content (UGC): 51% of users aged 11-17 have been exposed to at least one form of negative UGC in the past year, including hate (31%).
Incorrect use of the web by children and young people: the implications
So what can parents do to stem the risks of the net and educate to a correct use of the web?
First of all understand thoroughly the impact that inappropriate use of the Internet it can have on younger people and what the consequences can be on their psychological well-being. In the book “All too soon”, released this year in a new updated edition (De Agostini), Alberto Pellai, developmental psychotherapist, explores the theme of the relationship between sexuality and new technologies and, more generally, that of digital well-being of children, warning parents of the possible implications and starting from a scientific assumption often underestimated.
«Neuroscience tells us that up to 13/14 years, mental functioning is very vulnerable to the risks associated with online browsing – explains Pellai – at that age the brain is unable to support the complexity of the functions necessary to be able to move safely in that territory and is therefore more inclined to perform actions on the drive of the drive and instinct, without thinking about it and without activating the most competent part of the cognitive functions which instead is necessary on the web “.
And it is precisely from this inability that the greatest dangers arise. Among the most debated topics in this period, following the recent and dramatic news stories, too the use of social networks by the very young, where the so-called challenge or extreme challenges, an increasingly worrying phenomenon.
“If an 11 or 12 year old son told us he intends to go out in the evening and go to a place we don’t know, with people we don’t know who they are, in all likelihood we would stop him immediately at the door – explains Alberto Pellai – On the web it is valid the same rule: at that age there is a need for supervision. Children enter social networks because they are very fun, exciting, seemingly socializing activities. At the base, however, there is a system that involves putting yourself in the window and performing to get a like: a teenager or pre-adolescent is attracted to this dynamic because he needs to test how much it is worth. However, while the scale of value that a minor gives himself is normally in the hands of the adults of reference, who manage it from an educational perspective, in social networks it only applies to how it shows itself. Thus, the hunger for likes leads to actions that are considered fun because they are considered only in that very small perspective that is considered important for the goal. – become popular – forgetting everything else, that is, the consequences, implications and risks deriving from it ».
From web today unfortunately also passes the discovery of sex by the very young, who come into contact with unsuitable content offered by the network, with significant consequences on their emotional development and beyond.
«At 11 or 12 it is healthy to feel an exploratory curiosity – underlines Pellai – In the online, however, you will find something that is absolutely not phase-specific, and therefore suitable for what is the age of children. Online sexuality is known only in an excitatory perspective, a sexuality that serves to obtain pleasure and uses the other for this purpose. while all the implications of a relationship and emotional nature are not minimally contemplated “. An even more relevant problem, if we consider the lack, especially in Italy, of adequate education in sexuality and affectivity that can act as a counterbalance.
The tools available to parents
Limiting oneself to prohibiting the network, however, is certainly not the right strategy, as the psychotherapist Alberto Pellai also recalls: “It is not a question of prohibiting – he explains – but rather of try to delay rather than speed up, always remember that the developmental age is based on a concept of phase-specificity. We adults are good educators when we give the stimulus for growth that is needed at that moment and at that age ».
What strategies to use in practice? A good idea comes from Marco Gui, associate professor in the department of Sociology and Social Research and director of the Research Center “Digital wellbeing” of the University of Milano-Bicocca, which in the book “All too soon” he edited an interesting chapter dedicated to IT security suitable for parents. The tips (which we have collected in the gallery) include knowledge of strategies and filters to be set to secure the devices, especially in the case of use by children, but also the behaviors that can help children to know the resources offered by the web so that they can use it correctly. Not only that, if you fix some clear rules and lead by example essential starting points remain, it can be equally important to help children form a critical capacity able to protect them from certain contents.
Useful tips from the cyber expert
The network, therefore, in addition to having extraordinary potential, also has many limits, often underestimated by parents.
So what are the hidden dangers?
«It is good to warn children by explaining various factors to them. First of all you have to keep in mind that The internet has an infinite memory – explains Paolo Sardena, cyber expert by IMQ Intuity – IMQ Group – if we decide to also live online we must know that when we post a photo, video or comment on a Social Network or send it via an instant messaging system, such as WhatsApp or Telegram, that information will remain for always. Not only that, it is good to remember that The Internet is a thief: it was not designed for that, of course, but in fact it is. The network takes possession of everything we give it and in addition to never returning it, it takes control away from the rightful owner. A photo taken in a moment of intimacy and sent as a message to the person you trust most, who in turn sends it to the person you trust most … and here at the speed of light, that photo of you two, made just for you two, it goes viral. Moreover, The internet is anonymous and therefore the graceful “Trottolina09 ″ he could very well be a bad guy, there’s no way to know, other than through an investigation by law enforcement, but when it comes to that, it means something bad has already happened. Finally, The internet is sneaky: everything is built to keep you there, to make you click more, to make you open your favorite app 10 or 20 times a day. Because there is always something waiting for you ».
Given that education and dialogue with children remain fundamental, it may be useful to implement a series of conduct to protect safety. “The smartphone must be available to the parent who must, periodically, monitor the child’s activities, the login password to Social Networks must be shared, as well as applications for sharing files (Dropbox, Drive, etc…) – recommends the expert – and of course instant messaging applications such as WhatsApp, or Telegram. It is equally important get serious information about socio-digital phenomena involving our children. One source is that offered by the Digital Ethical Movement which operates in the Italian territory with the aim of creating a digital culture “. (Info: socialwarning.it).
Finally, especially in the case of small children, it is also good to know and apply some security settings specifications: “Available for both Apple and Android there is theApp Google Family Link – explains Paolo Sardena – which allows you to manage and control the device used by children by setting the most appropriate blocks and always having under control the online activities of their children. In case the child uses a computer instead, a device access profile with limited permissions, a more complicated but certainly useful procedure. Finally, to protect navigation, you can install specific software on the device that blocks access to certain types of content and sites such as Windows Family Safety».
The recommendation, therefore, remains that of do not underestimate the hidden pitfalls of the web. “A child of 7 or 8 rarely moves around the city without an adult to accompany him – concludes the cyber expert – he is much more frequent instead of using the Internet and Social Networks independently and this exposes him to the risks of online life, risks for which adults have to prepare it ».
In the gallery above, 9 things all parents should do for their children’s online safety.