"Education is the way to reduce cyber risks"
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October is the European Cyber Security Month. The goal is to raise awareness about cyber risks. Among all internet users, children are one of the most vulnerable groups. Phil Banyard, Reader in Psychology at Nottingham Trent University, has been researching on how schools in UK deal with those risks.
What are the main cyber risks for children?
The main cyber risks for children are probably cyber bullying and sexual solicitation. There are also new risks in social networking because it encourages risky behaviours. And there are also the problems with excessive game playing or addiction.
Are these risks different from real-life dangers?
I think it’s hard to tell. I think the only that does seem to be different measurably is cyber bullying because it can be much more intrusive and you just can’t get away from it. Cyber bullying is different from playground bullying. But for the others, it’s actually hard to tell if they’re a new danger or a new media for old dangers.
Is technical control effective to avoid those risks?
No, I don’t think it is. I think that education is the way you reduce risks. If you just control things for people, then they don’t come to evaluate the risks themselves. They don’t adjust their behaviour and so they’re vulnerable to the occasion the control is not there. I think technology is able to reduce some of it, for example you can block off some web sites. But on the whole, the best way to reduce risk is by improving people’s knowledge of it.
Do you think the overprotection has to do with a less digital literacy among adults?
I think everybody has some digital literacy and some areas where they’re not very good at and children are better at it. But I don’t think adults are particularly bad. In every generation, children find a way to create their own world. In my generation, we foundways to have music and entertainment that adults didn’t like. And I think children will always do that, so they will exclude parents, so we shouldn’t worry about that.
Do adults underestimate the capacity of children to avoid those risks?
Yes, we try and keep children young, we overprotect them. Particularly in European countries, we’re very protective of children. Outside of Europe children are often required do all sorts of adult tasks. We have to encourage children to make their own choices and to take responsibility for them.
Should some educational effort be put on adults?
The educational effort would be better directed atteachers so that they would know what children are doing and also evaluate the risks better.
How can you educate children to avoid cyber risks?
The best way is to give them strategies to deal with problems that arise. I remember the case of a primary school, with children from 7 to 10 years old, and the school didn’t particularly have filters on but they just sat with the kids and encouraged them to report when there was a problem and to tell them what to do about it. So the best way is to treat them as intelligent creatures and let them maketheir own choices, also to encourage them to seek support from their peers.We have to encourage them to be self-sufficient.
Do you think about a specific methodology?
It should be a continuous effort. It’s about how you deal with life generally, how you deal with strangers, how you deal with the danger when you walk down the street, the general politenesses of life. We try and encourage them to grow up and make their own decisions and to be responsible citizens. We should transfer that learning to their dealings with the internet.