In today’s connected world the wealth of information and opportunities that technology offers is immense. However, there is a darker side to this digital environment that leaves individuals vulnerable to all kinds of accidental or intentional harm.
Issues can range from access to inappropriate sites due to misspelling, accidental viewing of pornography and illegal images or more sinister and intentional harm from predator grooming, cyber bullying, gambling, self-harm and suicide sites to name but a few.
Whilst recognising all this, children and young people cannot be held back from all the positive benefits offered by information technology that has become an essential part of their everyday world.
The digital world is full of adventure and excitement much like the real world around us but it is clear that many of the risks and dangers are the same for both environments. However, when you add in the anonymity, ubiquity and communication potential of this new technology the problems can be significantly enhanced and sometimes have the potential to be far more damaging.
Research is beginning to reveal that people act differently on the internet and often alter their moral code. This is partly due to the lack of gate-keepers and the absence of the visual cues from others that we all use to moderate our interactions. This is difficult for children and young people to grasp when they are only just establishing the social rules of the real world. They often lack the skills to be able to interpret the incoming information or make appropriate judgments about how to behave online.
If you put this together with a generational digital divide, adults often do not necessarily feel equipped to help children in this area and this can lead to fear and a sense of helplessness. This is exaggerated by a risk-averse culture where we are inclined to keep our children “indoors” despite their developmental needs to socialise and take risks.