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Digital Citizenship in the Family


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Robert and Carole Hart-Fletcher were invited by the Family Online Safety Institute to write about their wrk with their Kids and Media charity, which is dedicated to helping parents and children benefit from digital media.

Robert writes, "A great deal of time and money has been dedicated to helping teachers and children in schools to safely reap the benefits of digital media. At school, children have the benefit of a guiding adult and when online they have the back-up protection of the network firewall, with white lists and black lists of websites they can and can't visit. Their digital diet is carefully controlled and selected for age-appropriateness, learning and social value. But children's greatest use of digital media is in the home, in the family, where in many cases supervision and guidance are sadly missing."

Many parents do not have a clue what media their children are seeing and know nothing about their children's experience and behaviour online.

Let's look at the enormous challenges that parents now face, and consider their awareness of the dangers of online media and their knowledge of their children's media consumption and online behaviour.

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Digital Citizenship in the Family

  1. 1. Robert & Carole Hart-Fletcher: Digital Citizenship in the Family Expert Commentary for Family Online Safety InstituteRobert and Carole Hart-Fletcher create online learning communities for children, young peopleand adults. Over the past twenty years, they have provided rich learning experiences for over twomillion school children and their teachers in 44 countries. They were the inventors of pioneeringlearning communities including SchoolNet Global – the worlds first and largest childrenspublishing community, which became the centerpiece of the Learning Zone of the UK’sMillennium Dome. They provided the ground-breaking GridClub Community (sponsored by the UKGovernment) and they created SuperClubsPLUS and GoldStarCafe, which they now licensearound the world. They have won thirteen major awards for innovation, online education andInternet safety, including the Bafta. They now run KidsOKOnline which provides specialistconsultancy, design and development services to those who wish to create safe social learningspaces for children and adults. Other recent projects include a Social Network for children in thecare of Barnardos, J.K Rowlings Pottermore project and the Kids and Media Global ParentsNetwork.KOKO has been shortlisted for a Nominet Internet Award for Empowering Young People andCitizens for its work with Kids and Media.KidsandMedia Australasia has now launched. Suzanne Barr, Regional Co-ordinator, is leading KaMin Australia and New Zealand - - FOSI Editor Digital Citizenship in the Family Robert & Carole Hart-FletcherThe Kids and Media ProjectKids and Media is the project of the charity, Barnevakten (literally ‘Child Protector’) founded inNorway in 2000 and led ever since by its evangelical President Øystein Samnøen. KidsOKOnlinejoined the charity just over a year ago. We are all dedicated to helping parents to guide and guard© Copyright Robert & Carole Hart-Fletcher, 2011 1
  2. 2. Robert & Carole Hart-Fletcher: Digital Citizenship in the Familytheir children and teens through the world of digital media. We are pro-media, pro-parents and pro-family. Our charter is nothing less than the United Nations Rights of the Child, which underlineschildrens rights to use media and to protection from harmful content and activity. Our mission is tosee children and teenagers using media with safety and awareness.Why focus on the family?A great deal of time and money has been dedicated to helping teachers and children in schools tosafely reap the benefits of digital media. At school, children have the benefit of a guiding adult andwhen online they have the back-up protection of the network firewall, with white lists and black listsof websites they can and cant visit. Their digital diet is carefully controlled and selected for age-appropriateness, learning and social value. But childrens greatest use of digital media is in thehome, in the family, where in many cases supervision and guidance are sadly missing. Manyparents do not have a clue what media their children are seeing and know nothing about theirchildrens experience and behavior online.The challenges for parentsLets look at the enormous challenges that parents now face, and consider their awareness of thedangers of online media and their knowledge of their childrens media consumption and onlinebehavior. (The research references are listed in the footnotes.) • Nearly a quarter of children have seen porn online or on TV, but almost half of their parents dont know about it. • The EU Kids Online survey found 14% of nine to sixteen year-olds have seen sexual or pornographic images online. Looking across all media, 23% of children have seen such content. 41% of parents whose children had seen sexual content said their child had not seen it.Many children become sexually active at thirteen, fourteen or fifteen without their parents knowing.The YouGov Sex Education Survey of fourteen to seventeen year-olds found that one fifth ofchildren surveyed had their first sexual experience at thirteen or under. Nearly a quarter of allfourteen year-olds and one third of fifteen year-olds have had sex. 35% of teens lie to their parentsabout levels of sexual activity.Many parents are not aware of their childrens sexual activity. About one third never discuss sexwith their children and may not be aware that their children are learning about sex from porn sites.Parents of the digital generation grew up with porn restricted to magazines on the top shelf in thenewsagent. Now the genie is out of the bottle and their children routinely use online porn. Someparents worry about its effects on childrens sexual behavior and self image.© Copyright Robert & Carole Hart-Fletcher, 2011 2
  3. 3. Robert & Carole Hart-Fletcher: Digital Citizenship in the Family • YouGov found that more than a third of teens say they rely on getting advice on sex from friends, the internet, magazines and pornography. 58% of all teens have viewed pornography online, on mobile phones, in magazines, movies or on TV.  This rises to 71% of the sexually active teenagers, 42% of whom use pornography regularly. More than a quarter of the boys surveyed viewed porn at least once a week (5% of them every day). Almost one third of teens say that sex is not discussed openly at home.Children are downloading free music, ringtones or films from illegal sites and, as a result, one inten have been exposed to offensive or sexually explicit material, and parents dont understand thefile sharing process or how to tell the legal sites from illegal. • The British Recorded Music Industry (BPI), found nearly a third of illegal music downloads delivered offensive content instead of the desired song. Another 41% received spyware and 39% downloaded a virus. • A Netmums survey of 900 online parents found many families were exposed to inappropriate content and serious security risks, such as computer viruses and theft of personal or financial information, via illegal downloads. But while 92% of parents say its important to encourage their children to access music, film and TV responsibly online, nearly 40% admitted they cant tell the difference between legal and illegal websites.By the age of eleven, most children are lying about their age to get into un-moderated adult socialsites where they can be bullied by their peers or groomed by predatory adults. The worstconsequence would be for a child to meet a stranger who physically or sexually abused them. But‘dont talk to strangers’ is ineffective advice when meeting new friends is such good fun forchildren. More worrying is that 5% of children have followed up an online meeting with a strangerwith a real life meeting without their parents knowing about it. Now, if that looks like a smallpercentage, with around 12m children under sixteen in the UK, thats 600,000 children or 20,000classrooms full of children going to meet a stranger unsupervised by their parents. • The Child Wise Annual Monitor found that many UK school children spend time on social networking sites. A third of seven to ten year-olds use Facebook, rising to 71% of eleven to twelve year-olds. • EU Kids Online found that 30% of European children have communicated online with someone they have not met face-to-face before. One in twelve children (8%) has met a stranger in real life, as a result of an online meeting, and 61% of those childrens parents said they were unaware of the meeting.Children are texting their friends under the bedcovers until the early hours of the morning andwaking too tired for school. Some are getting abusive or sexual messages and half of their parentsknow nothing about it.© Copyright Robert & Carole Hart-Fletcher, 2011 3
  4. 4. Robert & Carole Hart-Fletcher: Digital Citizenship in the Family • EU Kids Online found 15% of eleven to sixteen year-olds have received sexual peer to peer messages, that is, been exposed to ‘sexting’. 52% of those childrens parents were unaware of the sexting.The time children spend online and connected is increasing. They start their digital adventure veryyoung and it consumes more and more of their time as they grow. Former Google CEO EricSchmidt said recently, “If you have a child, youll notice theyll have two states: asleep or online”.For most kids thats not yet true, but many parents are concerned at the amount of time their kidsspend looking at screens and the effect it might be having on their lives. • Child Wise found that over 90% of UK children use the Internet. On average, children access five times a week and spend two hours a day online. Access is increasingly unsupervised in their own room, on their own laptop. • The University of Bristols Centre for Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences found that children who consume more than two hours of screen time a day run a higher risk of behavior problems. Most surprising, even if a two-hours-plus child spends his off-line time participating in sports activities, he still runs the same risk of developing behavior problems as an inactive child.Many parents worry about their childrens apparent addiction to the Internet, texting or gaming. • A study by the International Center for Media & the Public Affairs (ICMPA), focused on students between seventeen and 23 in ten countries, including the UK, America and China, found that the withdrawal symptoms young people experience when deprived of digital media are comparable with those of drug addicts going ‘cold turkey. Students reported that media, especially their mobile phones, have become an extension of themselves. Going without media, therefore, made it seem like they had lost part of themselves.The Digital Generation GapChildren do not see their online world as separate from what adults call the ‘real’ world - its all partof their broad life experience. They can get completely lost in a video game or an onlinemultiplayer game where they can become someone more powerful, special, beautiful and thatfantasy world can be as (or more) important that the ‘boring!’ real world. Their online-only friendsare as important to them as their school and neighborhood friends. To children, a text conversationor a mobile conversation is of no less value than a face-to-face physical meeting. Many parentsfind this is alien and difficult to deal with or even to talk about.Our children are growing up in a new digital age culture which is largely hidden from their parents.© Copyright Robert & Carole Hart-Fletcher, 2011 4
  5. 5. Robert & Carole Hart-Fletcher: Digital Citizenship in the FamilyMany of todays children surf alone, watch TV in their own rooms, have private video chats withstrangers, download films that parents dont ever see and listen to music that parents never hear.Many parents, although experienced with and perhaps working with computers, are bewildered bythe digital world. Yes, they might know how to use Word and Excel and can operate the DVR, butfew are involved with video games and multiplayer online games and theyve no idea how to talk totheir children about porn. Todays parents are dealing with a new Digital Generation Gap whichwidens every day as new digital technologies and new ways of interacting with media emerge.Parents need help.Kids and Media - Closing the GapWe at KidsOKOnline (KOKO) came across Kids and Media over a year ago when the project,which started with a single website in Norway, had spread to Denmark, USA and the Netherlands.We were so impressed with their work that we joined them and have helped the project to expand.The new website in the UK is led by KOKO and edited by Rune Rasmussen and the Australasiasite is led by ex-SuperClubsPlus leader, Susanne Barr, who is supported by a team of fantasticwriters.Kids and Media seeks to support, equip and empower parents and professionals who work withchildren and teenagers. We believe that parents need to be encouraged and empowered to takeresponsibility for their childrens digital experience. That means: • Knowing what good media content is available and suitable for their children. • Understanding the age-ratings for games and films. • Understanding of the benefits and risks in gaming, the web and mobile services. • Being ready to negotiate family rules and able to apply them consistently. • Getting down with their kids and teens to join in their gaming and surfing. • Steering their kids from the highly compelling but extremely violent or pornographic games, films and websites to more suitable but just as compelling resources.Our first aim is to inform parents, so that they know what technology and what content is out therefor their kids and teens on Film, TV, Games, Web and Mobile. Whats exciting, whats boring,whats uplifting, whats depressing, what’s inspiring, whats corrupting, whats fun, whatsexploitative, whats downright dangerous?Every year, on Kids and Media websites around the world, we publish reviews of about 300 PCand console games, online games, TV shows and films and advise parents on the age© Copyright Robert & Carole Hart-Fletcher, 2011 5
  6. 6. Robert & Carole Hart-Fletcher: Digital Citizenship in the Familyappropriateness, entertainment, educational and social value as well as the potential dangers. Thecontent is syndicated to all the KidsandMedia sites and localized for the regional parent audience,the local cultural and legal environment and the local game and film age-rating conventions. Kidsand Media Norway also organizes and hosts Europes largest non-commercial games convention.We also help inform and advise parents about the issues and how to start the sometimes difficultconversations they need to have with their children: • What do you do if your child is being bullied online? • What if your child is the bully? • How do you start a conversation with your child who has been watching porn? • How much time should your child spend on gaming? • What time of night should they put their mobiles away? • Whats a normal amount of texting? • Should your 13 year old daughter have the Internet and a webcam in her room? • Has your child ever received sexually abusive messages? • What do you do when your child wants to meet a new online ‘friend’ in person?We encourage parents by giving them conversation starters to open up discussion with theirchildren; we advise them to get down and get active with their kids online and in the gaming world.We encourage them to negotiate family-agreed rules for media use and to be strong enough toenforce them.The regional sites all offer practical and pragmatic advice on how to address the difficult issues.But originally it was a one-way conversation. KOKO has worked closely with Barnevakten over thepast year and has created a new Global Parents Network to which all the regional site visitors areinvited. Now parents can interact with peers, share their experiences, discuss their own situations,share the love and spread the pain. Now its not just advice from us, but open discussion parent-to-parent and parent-to-expert on all the important issues around kids and teens using digital media.Parents can write blogs about their own family experience, join specialist focus groups on how todeal with games addiction, porn or bullying. They can also contribute to Media Watch forums whichsearch for and review new technologies and content on games, film, TV, the web and mobile. Andthey can have their say by taking part in online surveys and research programs.Parents – got a problem? Got a solution? You now have a place to share your thoughts.Were really excited about the Global Parents Network and we have plans to create familyeducational experiences with and for parents, kids and teens. We want to build a place wherethose who hold the power over the media can hear the voice of parents and through them the© Copyright Robert & Carole Hart-Fletcher, 2011 6
  7. 7. Robert & Carole Hart-Fletcher: Digital Citizenship in the Familyvoices of children and young people.We invite FOSI members and readers to join in the network – as parents and/or as helpful experts.Go to Were only just beginning, but we look forward to building asupportive community for parents.Useful Links www.pottermore.comResearch • Report: EUKids Online. EUKidsOnline/EUKidsII%20%282009-11%29/ParticipatingCountries/uk.aspx • International Center for Media & the Public Affairs (ICMPA). Study conclusions: • Childwise Annual Monitor: Digital Lives 2011. childwise-published-research-detail.asp?PUBLISH=64 • BPI: report-shows-illegaldownloading-remains-serious-threat-to-britains-digital-music- future.aspx • NetMums: • Personal and Environmental Associations with Childrens Health (PEACH):http:// • YouGov Sex Education Survey: survey© Copyright Robert & Carole Hart-Fletcher, 2011 7