Stephanie Borg Psaila   04 Jan 2012   Internet Governance

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What would you say if you had to read that on average, children in Europe start to go online at the age of seven? And how many children, aged between 9 and 12, do you think have a social networking profile? (Despite age restrictions, it’s 38% – one third of whom access the Internet from a mobile phone)

Are they too young to be online or on a social network? Are online risks too high?

We cannot change the facts. Children have increased access to computers and the Internet, and the learning environment is increasingly integrating traditional with virtual.

However, it may come as a relief to know that Europe’s main policy framework, the Safer Internet Programme, has been shifting its approach from focusing mainly on online risks to focusing more on empowering young people to become responsible online, and to encourage positive content for children.

This shift in approach was one of the action and policy recommendations which emerged from the Safer Internet Forum 2011, the programme’s annual conference which brings representatives of industry, law enforcement authorities, child welfare organisations and policy makers to the table.

As the conference report states: “All stakeholders should seek to move away from the opportunities-risk and offline-online dichotomies in public discourse – while both opportunities and risks are present online, there has been a much stronger focus on risks in the later years. Furthermore, both in terms of emotions created, skills needed and consequences, there is no differentiation between offline and online.”

The report includes a number of recommendations on child online safety, such as increasing the participation of youth (rather than assuming what the opinion of young people is), and encouraging digital parenting. 

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