Anyone who has a small child in the family—or knows someone who does—has been surprised to see them unlock their parent’s cell phone, handle apps, or download games without the help of an adult. The idea that new generations are born knowing how to deal with technologies, whatever they may be, permeates a kind of contemporary collective imagination, which has appropriated the concept of digital natives without realizing that it camouflages a range of risks to which these children and young people are exposed.
Dispelling the myth is relatively simple: if adults constantly fall for all sorts of virtual scams, as we often learn from acquaintances or the press, it makes us think that children are safe from this and other dangers simply because they know how to push the right buttons ?
Confusing the easy handling of cell phones and other devices with their conscious use is one of the big knots that need to be untied so that the media, information and digital education of the younger population becomes a reality. It is necessary to show her the incredible potential of media creation, collaboration and learning, protecting her in the virtual environment and not in the virtual environment.
This task must be shared between family and school. As a popular African proverb puts it, “it takes an entire village to raise a child”. With regard to the education system, this mission is based on the idea that it is in this institution that the citizenship education of students resides. And, in a connected world, the definition of citizenship is closely linked to individuals who know how to read, write and participate in an ethical, responsible and critical way in this society.
In the case of the family, there is a problem that is similar to the challenge faced by teachers and other education professionals: how to train adults so that they can train children, if most of them were also not prepared to face the avalanche of information, content, networks , platforms and applications that are part of our daily lives?
Most of these fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts, grandfathers, grandmothers and other caregivers grew up in a world without internet, had an offline childhood and today are challenged daily by the confusing and often treacherous context that the digital environment offers.
Therefore, the first step for the family to play an active role in this process is precisely the awareness of the need to educate themselves in the media and digitally, so as to support their children, nephews and grandchildren in this learning process. Admitting this ignorance amidst the information clutter is a great start.
Themes such as privacy, security, data sharing, parental control and digital health must be studied and explored by adults as they are fundamental for the family to define its own rules. Issues of cyberbullying, virtual challenges, self-image, self-exposure and child exploitation obviously cannot be excluded, as they bring together some of the greatest online dangers children are susceptible to, with serious consequences for their offline socialization.
In the connected world, there is no longer the idea of “going in” and “out” of the internet, as many adults have previously experienced. Our experiences and relationships in work, affection, consumption and citizenship today are closely related to the digitalization of communication, even in a context of so many social inequalities as in Brazil.
Therefore, it is necessary to inform and research. Excellent material on all these subjects can be found and downloaded free of charge at SaferNet Brasil and at Ponto BR’s Information and Coordination Center, and also on digital platforms such as Google and YouTube Family Link, for example.
There is a maxim among researchers and educational entities with a focus on digital media and tools that questions: if you wouldn’t leave a child alone in a public place, why leave him alone on the internet? Keeping this reflection in mind is a path and a warning to seek knowledge and information with the objective of offering, to yourself and to those under your responsibility, the best ways to model a conscious and healthy relationship with technologies.