The annual pause for Safer Internet Day feels even more critical this year as we are all – especially our young people – spending so much more time on digital devices these days. Which parent or carer among us hasn’t worried more about our children’s screen time in the past year?
Qustodio, which tracks the usage of tens of thousands of devices by children aged four to 15 in the UK, US and Spain, found that website and app visits in the UK were up by more than 100% in January 2021 compared with January 2020. The average daily time spent on apps rose by 15%. These figures aren’t surprising to anyone with children in the house. During lockdowns, the internet is one of the few ways our children can ‘spend time’ with their friends. We don’t want to restrict that – so how do we make sure they are safe?
This question is one that Nominet has been playing its part to answer long before the pandemic struck. Most recently, we have supported two excellent charities already hard at work in this area, South West Grid for Learning (SWGfL) and ChildNet, via our Children’s Online Safety programme. We have also collaborated with the Scouts to re-design the curriculum for the Digital Citizenship Badge, which helps prepare young people for life online, guiding them on how to act responsibly in the digital space. It’s definitely attracted interest: from the launch in September up until the end of December, over 8,000 of the Badges have been sold, while the Activity pages have been viewed over 44,000 times.
Of course, the digital world changes fast, as do the way young people use it. To keep pace, Nominet and the Scouts have decided to launch two new activities for the badge, with the details being released in conjunction with Safer Internet Day this month. These new activities are focused on gaming, an increasingly crucial area to engage with: the Children’s Commissioner figures of 2019 show that 93% of young people in the UK play video games. More recent figures showed that the gaming population grew 63% during the 2020 lockdown, so we may now have nudged yet closer to 100%.
Gaming is understandably pleasurable, but it presents risks, such as interaction with strangers and the potential for abuse and cyber bullying. Parents also worry about whether playing violent video games will have an impact on their child’s behaviour in real life, or whether their offspring are losing their ability to interact in the real world.
It’s easy to worry, so it’s worth highlighting that there are documented benefits to be gained from gaming. A report from the National Literacy Trust found that gaming can be a route into reading, help unlock creativity and empathy, support a young person’s mental wellbeing and even encourage positive communication with family and friends. This is to be welcomed, so we must find means to optimise the benefits by equipping our children with the skills to stay safe and secure.
This is where we hope the new activities in the Digital Citizenship Badge will help to develop the critical thinking skills, allowing young people to recognise and mitigate the risks of the gaming world for themselves. They will become more aware of the purpose of things like sponsored content, encouraged to pause before they make an in-app purchase – something many parents will welcome – and remain aware of what is being done and why to manipulate their actions in the gaming space. Cognisance and awareness are important first steps to knowing how to stay safe.
This is about empowering young people to get the most out of their use of the internet by being aware of the risks and reducing them. It’s an important lesson that this key demographic must learn as they grow into adults in a very digital society, and face a future in which many of their interactions may be online. It is also, perhaps, a lesson that we adults need to keep front of mind too, as we get more and more used to living and working online. Be mindful of the risks and find ways to be a good ‘digital citizen’. If we all tried to do that, the online world might be a happier, more positive and safer space for everyone.
Find out more about our work with the Scouts on the Digital Citizenship Badge on our blog.