Harness the power of youth voice in online education.

Posted on 21 March 2019

Will Gardner, CEO of Childnet, looks at the ways in which educators can harness the power of young people in online safety education. 

Online safety is a complex issue, with technology changing rapidly and new apps and games being developed all the time. Children and young people are often at the forefront of this change, using and interacting with these new technologies before many adults do.

This is one of the reasons why at Childnet believe, that the experiences and voices of young people should play a central part to any education about online issues. Through our work with thousands of young people across the UK, we know they have strong ideas and opinions on online safety and that they are able discuss these rationally, with compassion and a clear vision for a better internet.

For the last ten years we have run the Childnet Film Competition, where we ask young people to create a short film educating their peers about an online issue that they believe is important. Each year it has been amazing to not only to see the ways these films have been skilfully created, but also how they have then been used as impactful tools to educate young people around the UK about key online safety issues.

Everyone on the internet has a responsibility to be respectful to others

Our recent research conducted for Safer Internet Day 2019 found that 84% of young people believe everyone on the internet has a responsibility to be respectful to others. We also looked at their experiences of consent online, ‘sharenting’ and how they felt when people posted about them online without asking first. One 10 year old girl explained the challenges she faced when it came to consent about sharing online:

‘I find it impossible to say no to someone online (when they ask to share an image of you online). I struggle with it because I don’t really want to hurt their feelings. Plus, I don’t want this to be shared but I also don’t really want to say no because I almost want them to feel like they can come to me and they can laugh with me and joke around with me.’

By listening to the challenges that young people face, we can then better address their needs. Giving young people the chance to voice their experience, worries, as well as ideas, can help to bring them on board to work to address some of these problems – young people having a level of ownership in this way can lead to extraordinary outcomes.

Young people as educators and drivers of change

Young people can play a powerful role in educating their peers; providing relatable and up to date advice, and shaping a school’s ethos by acting as role models. We’ve been exploring the role of youth leadership on online safety outcomes through our Childnet Digital Leaders Programme, which trains online safety peer mentors. We found there is a clear positive impact on the whole school community through this holistic approach.

At Childnet, we start our sessions by letting pupils steer the learning and discussions towards the things that they like to do online and therefore creating a positive culture for young people. One great way that you can do this is through the power of film.

Entries are now open for the 2019 Childnet Film Competition, this year we are asking young people to create a short film around the theme of ‘Our future online’. The competition is a great opportunity for young people to create films which will be used to educate and inspire others across the UK. To help your students to create these films there are a range of resources, top tips and answers to some FAQs, all of which are available at www.childnet.com/film-comp.

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