Charities must do more to protect children online
Matt Broekhuizen, Managing Director and Founder of Table 19, looks at some of the issues facing young people in the online world, arguing that more needs to be done to shield children from its dangers.
This article was written by Matt Broekhuizen, Managing Director and Founder of leading CRM agency Table 19, which spearheads campaigns with online safety charity Internet Matters. Matt Broekhuizen is responsible for agency growth, client services and new business. Prior to setting up Table19, Matt was Head of Customer Marketing at Sky where he was responsible for keeping churn below 10% and delivering net contribution growth from its 12m+ customer base.
Children learn through exploration and natural curiosity. However, as they grow up, develop and discover new experiences, it becomes more important to take greater steps to ensure their safety.
Children’s internet use has hit a record high in recent years, but with so much of the content they consume being regulated, there are ongoing debates about just who takes responsibility for their online safety. Exposed to tablets and smartphones at an increasingly early age, children are correspondingly savvier about using them and easily share tips with friends. Parents in contrast are frequently overwhelmed and often naive about what children can do with sophisticated devices.
None of us – of any age – are immune from encountering problems online. Children are certainly at a vulnerable stage in their lives, naturally more trusting than adults and hopefully less exposed to the darker side of the internet. They are also not as well equipped to deal with such issues – or their consequences. While the internet is an incredible place for children to play and learn we all know that there are some deeply unpleasant things lurking in the darker corners.
Children face many online dangers including violent acts or images, cyberbullying, sexting and pornography – and the threat is growing thanks to their evolving digital behaviour. The 24/7 nature of social media means children are unable to find respite at home, with potential consequences for their mental health. Moreover, the social pressures they face are immense and this is compounded by messaging online.
Even with moderate social media usage, a child can face numerous dangers from cyberbullying that are potentially even more damaging than bullying in the flesh. Whereas a hurtful comment in person could well be witnessed by other people, who can give it some perspective, the same comment sent via SMS, Snapchat or Instagram will be entirely private.
Similarly, the multimedia capabilities of smartphones allow them to capture photos or videos of an embarrassing moment, ready to be shared far and wide. Naive teens might even have sent suggestive content to someone they were in a relationship with (or thought they were), only to find it being passed around their friends. Being exposed to messages, images and peer discussions can reinforce negative beliefs that children and young people hold about themselves, their lives and their futures.
The parent-child divide
One of the underlying problems that amplifies these dangers of the online world is the digital divide between parents and their kids. Teenagers have always had their own worlds away from their parents, which used to revolve around pop music subcultures. But it’s now increasingly difficult for adults who didn’t grow up with online culture or gaming to understand the dynamics of Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram.
A new survey by Internet Matters of over 10,000 schoolchildren revealed 52% would not speak to their parents if they had been upset by something online, compared to 91% who said they would turn to them if upset face-to-face. Similarly, nine out of 10 (92%) of children said they would turn to their teacher if they had been upset face to face. Yet only a third would turn to them if they had been upset by something online. Furthermore, it also reveals that just half of schoolchildren would not speak to their parents if upset by something online.
Sticks and stones
All of these issues prompted the launch of a campaign for Internet Matters and spearheaded by Table 19 called Sticks and Stones – an initiative that aims to help keep children safe in the digital world. The campaign features a short film to bring home the message that the advice we’d learned from our parents is a bit outdated; bullying has become cyberbullying, and it’s moved from the playground to every possible social feed.
Using the old ‘Sticks and Stones’ rhyme, repeated over and over, Table19’s film takes viewers to an uncomfortable place to reflect the turmoil a child goes through at the hands of cyberbullies. The aim was to drive awareness of the issues and the need to have conversations, while providing hope, help and advice to parents.
The results speak for themselves, with the campaign video generating over 1.8 million views, 365,000 people engaged with the online resources and more than 60% of visitors said they would talk to their children after looking at the site. The campaign also won industry accolades from the Corporate Engagement Awards and the Direct Marketing Association.
The online world moves too fast for people to not sit up and take notice. Following campaigns like these, perhaps more content creators, providers and curators will wake up to societal concerns around online safety for children, particularly when issues are raised by users themselves. A combination of educating parents and empowering children could prompt organisations to launch more child-friendly products and services and to take account of the changing behaviour of kids online.