Written by Emily Udle, who is completing an internship as a content writer with Natterhub. Emily is a Canadian student studying Applied Linguistics and English at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario. She is interested in communication, language, and the evolving impact of technology, especially in the lives of children.
The ‘Online Nation’ 2021 review by the Office of Communications (Ofcom) reported that online content and communication was more important in children’s lives during the Covid-19 pandemic than ever before. While both school and social time switched online, it’s unsurprising that 90% of young people felt social media allowed them to more closely connect with friends in 2020. But perhaps a more surprising side-effect of this jump in time spent online is an increase in parent leniency with child internet use.
Ofcom reported that “half of parents of 5 to 15-year-olds who went online felt the need to relax some of the rules about what their child did online because they were at home more than usual”. This is problematic, especially as almost three quarters of children who viewed videos on social media came across something upsetting or harmful in 2020. Amid increased pandemic-era internet use, the chances of children finding themselves in unsafe areas of the internet has only grown - but conversations about internet use can combat this.
Education protects children online.
As children grow and learn online in new ways, it’s important to open conversations about the internet’s realities. Talking to children about the rewards and risks of internet use is a parent’s first line of defence to protect children online.
The internet was essential in the Covid-19 pandemic: not only enabling children to continue learning in isolation, but to thrive while doing so. The internet is an endless resource of rewarding opportunities to learn, and during the pandemic, learning took new forms - educators adapted their lessons into video formats, producing educational content that is available on platforms like YouTube. But the rewards of internet use don’t end at education, interacting online in a thoughtful way builds empathy and kindness, too.
Reducing critical conversations about the internet risks giving children the impression that online activity shouldn’t be thought-through. In reality, there are real dangers. According to Ofcom, the most common negative experience children faced online involved a stranger initiating contact, while 17% of negative experiences involved children coming across sexual content online. The Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) brings up an important point in their June 2021 report: “Children and young people need reassurance and open discussion in schools about what they can expect”. Children need to understand the risks - and hear about them not just from their parents but at school as well.
Nattterhub intern, Emily, reflects on her experience of coming of age while navigating the internet for the first time.
Ofcom and Ofsted’s call for children to be educated about the internet’s risks hits home. As I entered my adolescent years, the world entered into social media. The lack of formal educational tools was really felt in my age group - we were children discovering social media along with the rest of the world, and this led to vulnerabilities online.
I had the right idea - I was approaching the internet as a way to learn. But because my schools didn’t emphasize the importance of remaining aware of potential internet dangers, I dove into the internet with no caution for what I might find. If I could advise the educators of my childhood, I would encourage them to make conversations about internet safety commonplace.
There are online dangers, but there are many more exciting opportunities. If I could go back in time, I would remind myself to think twice, but be optimistic:
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