Bridging the Digital Divide
According to the United Nations there were 2.3 billion Internet users at the end of 2011, whilst this progress is significant there exists a digital divide with only one quarter of inhabitants in the developing world online. Our collective effort to bridge this digital divide is imperative to ensure that all citizens can exploit the benefits the Internet can deliver.
Without wishing to divert such an important discussion into the negative elements of the Internet, we must not lose sight of the many dangers the Internet represents, dangers the majority of users are unaware of. This disconnect on the dangers of the Internet has enabled an environment that has allowed cyber criminals to make vast sums of money through a myriad of ingenious, and no so ingenious schemes. Understanding the risks the internet brings is important, but what happens when these actions are deliberately hidden from you by your children? Research reveals parents are blind to teen online behavior, based on a survey of 200 parents and 200 teens (aged 13-17) in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and The Netherlands. It found that 70% of teens’ online browsing Is hidden from parents, demonstrating a real disconnect between what parents believe is happening in the digital world as opposed to reality.
Just as concerning, is that not only would teens actively hide what they doing, but they are unlikely to report mean or cruel behavior they have witnessed. In the UK for example, only 10% of respondents said they would report such behavior to an adult, whereas almost 30% of parents believe their child would report such issues. This raises legitimate concerns as many studies have linked cases of suicides to cyberbullying, with some recent high profile cases demonstrating the dangers this can have on vulnerable children and adults.
The exposure of the less desirable elements that the internet brings has been well documented, in the Independent Review of the Commercialisation and Sexualisation of Childhood[i], commissioned by the Department of Education, it was stated that ‘Society also seems to have become more openly sexualised; the rapidly changing technological environment has its benefits in so many ways but has also made the seamier side of humanity inescapable’.
Sadly the inescapable nature of such content being made available, and actively viewed by teens appears to demonstrate another disconnect between parents and their children. In Italy for example 20% of parents think their teens view pornography once to several times a day, when in fact 42% of teens admit to viewing it as frequently as this. Such a worrying trend is not solely related to one country alone, with such disconnects being demonstrated by parents across all surveyed countries. Many parents do recognize such dangers, with small numbers speaking to their children of the dangers the Internet can bring (In the Netherlands for example it was 29%), and some also implement parental control software (In Spain for example it is 34.5%). This shows we are a long way from the recommendations cited in the Independent review that promoted the implementation of all new devices providing customers an active choice about whether filters should be switched off or on. Such an approach would “substantially increase the take-up and awareness of these tools and, consequently, reduce the amount of online adult material accessed by children.”
Of course, the Internet represents enormous benefits to children and adults across the world. Bridging the digital divide is a challenge we must wholeheartedly accept but ensuring that we create an environment that is safe for our children, and all of us to reap the benefits can represent.