Some things in life are scary. Some things are scary and are ultimately fun – such as going to a theme park or performing in public. Some things don’t seem scary at all at first glance but have hidden dangers. Using electronic mobile devices and being online can be classified as one of these.
Life was a lot more straightforward when an 'electronic device' meant a massive big box either under your desk or in the corner of the living room, surrounded by lots of leads and a painfully slow internet connection. Of course, there were still trip hazards from cables and potential eye strain (not to mention being very bored whilst waiting for a web page to download).
Nowadays the device is probably with you all the time, it might even be on your wrist, and in some sense is always on. There are new hazards today. As well as eye strain, children are developing postural problems with 'text neck'. Being mobile with your device is even more precarious; a Queensland study reported that walking and texting was actually more dangerous than driving and texting. A third of young people have sustained an injury whilst attempting to text and walk. At the furthest extreme, a 14-year old in Moscow was recently electrocuted in the bath by her mobile phone – which might make you think twice about having music on whilst you wash.
Physical hazards aside, there are many other online safety issues. Firstly, there are scam emails – trying to get money from you or infecting your machine with viruses and malware. Similar honey traps exist from pop-up banners that lurk on webpages. Of course, the actual content of webpages can be at best wildly inaccurate, and at worst sexually explicit or violent.
Up close and personal
When one considers social media, the issues become personal. Bullying through social media is on the increase. The home, once a safe haven, is now another arena where an individual can be bullied and attacked. Impulsive sharing of explicit personal photos could have disastrous consequences potentially causing great distress to the individual and leaving someone with a criminal record, barring them from certain occupations in the future. Grooming of young people, and its ramifications might make you want to disconnect the power supply.
OfCom estimate that 75% of 5–7 year olds have access to the internet – this rises to 99% by age 12 (Source: Children and parents: media use and attitudes report). Digital access is now a part of their everyday life and life is increasingly impossible without a digital persona. Balancing this need to be connected with the risks outlined above is difficult. The answers become even harder with vulnerable individuals. One study concluded that children with special educational needs were 16% more likely to be cyber bullied.
Preparing for battle
How do we protect ourselves, and those who are particularly defenceless? Whose responsibility is it? Is it just all too difficult to contemplate?
One solution is filtered content. It’s now possible to restrict access at home (though apparently many parents don’t) and content seen at school will be blocked if it is flagged to be inappropriate. But, this will restrict some potentially useful material, and it’s not infallible. Furthermore, what happens when young people are suddenly allowed to access totally unrestricted content? What happens when they use their mobile device away from home?
So protection can only take us so far. Professor Tanya Byron equates deciding whether a child can use the Internet with the way a parent would decide whether a child can walk to the sweet shop unaccompanied. Both involve risk. To make an appropriate decision parents need to understand the level of danger and the capability of the child or young person. But, the child will need to be able to do this on their own one day, so education about these risks is essential.
Being digital allows amazing possibilities. But some of these are scary. To some adults, the very act of interacting with an electronic device feels uncomfortable. But the reverse is true for many, who remain unaware of the dangers.
Ros Kaijaks - Sector Manager
Ros Kaijaks is a Sector Manager for Employability, Enterprise and Entrepreneurship and Traineeship provision at OCR. Amongst her responsibilities is setting OCR’s strategy for these areas and leading product management to ensure OCR’s offer meets the needs of employers, centres, and other key stakeholders.
Ros has been with OCR since 1997, and has been involved in a variety of qualifications including CLAiT, Key and Functional Skills and Higher Apprenticeships. She is also a governor of a local primary school.