Children help in the design of new Chatdanger website

Posted on 08 February 2005

Childnet International - the children’s internet charity – today launched its updated Chatdanger website to coincide with the Safer Internet Day.

 

Childnet’s new “Chatdanger” website uses real life stories to demonstrate the potential dangers online and to give advice about how to stay safe on Chat, Instant Messenger, Online Games, E-mail and mobiles.

Following extensive research with children in the UK and in Denmark, the original site has undergone a complete redesign to bring it up to date so it can keep pace with young visitors’ needs and the changing use of interactive technology.

The redesigned Chatdanger website has been created to inform young people about the potential dangers and ways of keeping safe in interactive areas online, such as chatrooms, instant messenger, online games and email, and also via mobile phones. The aim of the site is very much to inform and empower users of these services, so they can use these services safely, and not at all to discourage people from using these services.

Childnet International originally launched the Chatdanger website in October 2000. Earlier that year Childnet had been contacted by the family of a 13 year-old girl who had been sexually abused by an adult who had first made contact with her in an Internet chatroom. The family very bravely wanted to use their story to help alert other parents to the dangers of chatrooms, and to use their words,

“to ensure that some good comes from this tragic episode by raising awareness of the potential dangers of the Internet, particularly chatrooms”

Working with the family Childnet launched Chatdanger.com on the day the offender in this case was sentenced.

Within the first four years of this site Childnet have received over 5000 emails (via the Contact Form on the chatdanger website) from children, young people and parents, expressing their concerns, asking for advice and sharing their stories. The e-mails have captured and illustrate not only the need for this safety information, but also the demand for it. The emails we have received have been an incredibly useful source of information, where Childnet staff are able to find out more about the real needs facing users of the technology. Some of these emails have been used directly in policy debates and discussions surrounding child safety on the Internet.

The original chatdanger website focused mainly on chatrooms, outlining the potential dangers and advising on how to keep safe. However, Childnet were aware of the real need for information about other technologies that children were using where they could be in touch with people they didn't know. For example, Childnet had received several e-mails to the chatdanger website from children saying 'thanks for the information about chatrooms, but I am using instant messenger - what do I need to know to keep safe on IM'. Children and young people are interacting online with others on a variety of different platforms and services - chat, instant messenger, e-mail, online games, both on PC and on mobiles - and the redesign of the chatdanger site ensures it is a place where children and young people can come to find out about the safety issues intrinsic in the different applications and technologies, and most importantly find out how they could stay in control while using these technologies and stay safe.

Will Gardner, Research and Policy Manager at Childnet International, who headed the Project and the redesign of the site explained:

“It is so important that the information for children keeps pace with the developments in technology. That's it in a nutshell really - making sure that information is available for children (in an engaging and relevant way) so that they can be equipped with the knowledge to use the technology they are using safely”.

Working with Red Barnet Save the Children Denmark, and with funding from the Daphne Programme of the European Commission, Childnet International carried out a comprehensive review of the chatdanger website and its safety messages.

The project team did extensive research with young people both in the UK and Denmark to create this new version of Chatdanger, holding young people's focus groups in both countries to hear their thoughts about interactive areas online and new technology. The young people spoke about the risks they perceive they are facing and the best way to put safety messages across to people of their age groups. The project team also reviewed the thousands of emails we have received to our respective sites (Chatdanger and Sikkerchat). This research has led directly to the redesign of the Chatdanger site.

As part of the research, Will Gardner explains, the young people were asked about what is the best way to reach them with messages about safety online.

“The children were very clear on this. Many of them felt that they knew the rules about keeping safe on the Internet, and they didn't just want to hear these again. They wanted the safety information to be made relevant to them, and to be shown why it is important to 'keep your personal information secret' for example. This we have been able to do by using case studies of real stories of what has happened to children, and many of these stories have actually come from children who have visited the chatdanger site and e-mailed us. Children want to tell others about what happened to them in order that others might learn from their experiences. This is definitely the most powerful bit of the site - it is engaging and by using real life examples (many of them) told by children it is made relevant to children”.

Though the chatdanger website is aimed at children and young people, it is also relevant for parents. In fact the site will help children help their parents. Some parents are not as comfortable with new technology as their children, and this site gives the children the information with which to reassure their parents. If children can discuss the safety issues and the ways of keeping safe with their parents, their parents will be more relaxed about their child's use of the new technology.

Stephen Carrick-Davies, CEO of Childnet says,

“For very many years, Childnet and other organisations have been producing Internet safety websites and wider campaigns aimed at young people. However, recent research has revealed that whilst the level of awareness of the in the UK amongst young people is high, this awareness does not correlate with a change of behavior with children still giving out personal information over the internet.

In our research it was young people themselves who told us that real stories from their peers would influence them most . It is now time to strengthen education material so that it does more than simply raises awareness with children but challenges them in a style and format which they can relate to and which result in a change of behaviour!”.

Ends

For further information and interviews contact:

Will Gardner: Childnet International: 020 76396967, mobile 07960 565994

See www.chatdanger.com

Notes to Editors:

Childnet has been an active member of the Government’s Home Office Task Force on Child Protection on the Internet since its inception in 2002.

Childnet International is a registered charity, (no 1080173) set up in 1995 - with the mission to work in partnership with others around the world to help make the internet a great and safe place for children. The vision of the organisation is to ensure that all those involved in developing, producing, controlling, using and regulating international telecommunications (current and future), recognize and implement policies and programmes which prioritize the rights of children so that their interests are both promoted and protected. For more information about Childnet International go to www.childnet-int.org

The Safer Internet day is organised under the patronage of Viviane Reding, Member of the European Commission responsible for Information Society. For more information see www.saferinternet.org

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