Empower the children online

It cannot be denied that the Internet's benefits for children are immense. However, so are the dangers.

Still, instead of taking an over-protective stance, we need to approach the Internet positively, says Telenor Group director of corporate responsibility Ola-Jo Tandre.

"We should look at the Internet as a fantastic way of enriching children's life. It is a good source of information and stimulation for children," says Tandre, stressing that the best safety measure is to empower children and parents.

He believes that has been the trend in recent years. "We have seen a shift from the outset you can't do that, you can't do that, no no no' to You can but ...' It's a perspective of developing responsible users of the future, which is a more positive attitude."

This is also the approach that the Norway-based provider of telecommunications services, and parent company of DiGi.com, has adopted in Malaysia with its CyberSAFE programme.

"Coming from the industry, we are looking at how to provide Internet for all while addressing the challenges children are facing online today."

He says that in Norway, what Telenor is doing is to talk to children themselves about their experiences online and how they are dealing with problems.

"We try to get them into a trusted atmosphere where they can be honest with the kind of experiences they have online."

Conducted in collaboration with CyberSecurity Malaysia and other stakeholders, CyberSAFE's main activity is to go on school tours nationwide to talk to children, teachers and parents.

"We aim at reaching out to 5,000 students in different parts of the country for this phase, which will end in December."

Tandre strongly believes it is crucial to find the right language to talk to children if you want to engage them on online safety.

"You also have to find a setting and a way of describing the reality that is very much their own," he says, citing Norway's experience where they created real-life scenarios to stimulate discussion.

"One is where someone took an inappropriate photograph of another student and posted it online. Instantly, it sparked all sorts of problems with things going out of control," he cites, relating how it triggered various emotions in the young such as "that could be me" and "what can I do".

This is followed by a simulated dialogue between parents and children where they come up with possible resolutions for the problem.

This method is used for various challenges faced by young people online such as cyber predators, cyber bullying and others. Based on the realities shared by the children, he adds, they adapt their online child protection initiatives.

Ultimately, says Tandre, we need to develop content that is relevant and challenging for children to counter the "bad" content on the web. "Children will continue to explore, it's their nature, and they will not be happy just visiting a small number of websites that we think are safe for them. We're kidding ourselves if we think that's the case," he cautions.

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