Safer Internet Day, teenagers online: the most frequent dangers and how to defend yourself

On 7 February each year, Safer Internet Day is celebrated in over 180 nations, the World Day for Internet Safety promoted by the European Commission. From cyberbullying to social networks and digital identity, every year Safer Internet Day aims to raise public awareness of the problems of online browsing. According to Save The Children, the average age of first access to the internet and the time spent online is decreasing: 40.7% of 11-13 year olds in Italy use social media. From the data of Moige, the Italian Parents’ Movement, developed in collaboration with the Piepoli Institute, it emerges that “one minor in 4 has a channel where he talks about his life, 49% browse without anti-pornography filters, almost one in two has suffered bullying on the web. For 60%, cyberbullying is the result of a lack of controls, one in 4 makes friends online with strangers”.

The day

As stated on the event website, the Day was born as an initiative of the EU SafeBorders project in 2004 and was later taken up by the Insafe network as one of its first actions in 2005. Insafe is a European network of Safer Internet centers (SIC). Each national center implements awareness and education campaigns, operates a helpline and works closely with young people to ensure an evidence-based, multi-stakeholder approach to building a better Internet. Safer Internet Day has grown over time and around the world: in 2009, specific Committees were introduced which aim to strengthen ties with countries outside Europe’s borders.

Data from Save The Children

If for many children being online, exchanging content and messages represents an element of openness to the world – underlines Save The Children – the surveys on adolescents aged 11, 13 and 15 show that 13.5% of the sample uses problematic of social media and 24% of video games. The age of victims of online solicitation is decreasing, 9% are under 10 years old. Although the law provides that a user can only have access to social media after turning 13, the reality shows a massive presence of pre-adolescents who have opened a profile indicating a greater age or have used that of an adult, often a younger parent or less aware: 40.7% of 11-13 year olds in Italy use social media, with a female prevalence (47.1%) compared to males (34.5%). Minors use new technologies, in particular messaging apps and social networks, increasingly early, frequently and intensely. Among the youngest, the time spent online is growing more and more, especially after the pandemic: in Italy 78.3% of 11-13 year olds use the internet every day, 91.9% of adolescents in the 14-17 year old range and 44.6% of children between 6 and 10 years old. In the photograph of digital Italy, the age at which one owns or uses a smartphone, the preferred means of connecting, is increasingly lower, with a significant increase in children between 6 and 10 years old who, after the pandemic, use mobile phones every day: from 18.4% to 30.2% between the two-year period 2018-19 and 2021-22. 89.2% of 11-17 year olds use their cell phones every day.

The Moige report

“The data continues to paint a context in which bullying and cyberbullying are still very widespread”, explains the Moige Report. “8% of those interviewed admit that they always or often use photos or videos to make fun of someone, given that it records a constant growth trend: in 2022 it was 6%, in 2019 it was 5%. 17% rarely do it , but admits having done it at least once. 45% of those interviewed have suffered at least one form of bullying. In 34% of cases it was verbal violence (such as insults and insults), in 26% psychological violence (negative gossip, exclusion by the group), 6% physical (kicking, punching), 6% were cases of cyberbullying (shitstorming, sharing of personal content)”. Among young people, the curators point out, “there is little awareness of the consequences of their actions on the Internet: for 77% their online behavior is correct, while 23% have never asked themselves questions about it. There is still too much confusion also around bullying and cyberbullying, and the fact that these behaviors constitute crimes: 25% are little or not at all aware of this”. In this context, for children the lack of controls and protections on the part of social media has a negative impact on the phenomenon, encouraging bullying “a lot” (18%) or “quite a bit” (42%).

Filters and prevention

Another topic investigated by the Report is that of anti-porn filters. “Although there are valid browsing filters that prevent minors from accessing pornographic content, these still seem to be little used. 49% of the minors interviewed usually browse without an anti-porn filter, 8% only use it “rarely” 67% of survey participants rate these filters as fairly or very useful, while 1 in 4 believe that they limit freedom of navigation. In general, it emerges that minors talk little in their families about the possibility of adopting tools for safe navigation , almost all of the interviewees, 94%, have never talked about it with their parents, or have done so rarely. Regarding artificial intelligence, 48% declare that they always or often use it. For 57%, it is a valid tool that could help him with studying and learning, 62% believe that it can help him solve problems and 53% believe that it can improve the general level of education. These tools are routinely used to help with studies and homework by 38% of students, although almost 1 in 4 (23%) admit to having found themselves in situations in which artificial intelligence provided incorrect or inaccurate information. 38% of those interviewed believe that AI plays a very or fairly important role in their lives, 45% believe it is not very important and 17% not at all important. Only 25% think it can negatively affect their privacy.

The threats

The dangers of unsafe online browsing are many and especially affect teenagers, as the postal police station website reminds us. Among these is online solicitation: adults who use the internet, social networking services and online gaming apps to hook up minors with the aim of having them send them erotic and sexual images, often posing as peers who are in love with their victims. This is followed by the dissemination and possession of illegal material, cyberbullying and online challenges. The latter is a very widespread phenomenon among young people which consists of filming themselves while doing actions which at that moment are trending topics on the social networks and circuits they frequent. In the majority of cases these are not very dangerous actions but – underlines the police – it is necessary to make children aware of the fact that some challenges can still represent a danger if undertaken with the aim of increasing one’s popularity, without evaluating the real risks.

The advices

The postal police has identified some advice aimed at parents who want to protect their children from the dangers of the web. First of all, it is necessary to teach younger children the importance of not revealing their identity online, as well as other personal information about the family (name, surname, age, address, telephone number, name and opening hours of the school, name of friends ). It is important to educate about Internet safety even if the children in question do not seem interested in surfing: they may find themselves doing it at a friend’s house or at school. You then need to set the “history” of the tablet or smartphone they use, in order to keep track of the sites visited. As for emails, it is a good idea to read them with them, checking each attachment to the message. Above all: teach not to open emails that aren’t waiting for you on your own. If you do not recognize the sender, it is better not to open the email or any attachments: they may contain viruses, Trojans or spyware capable of altering the functioning of the computer. In this regard, the postal police underlines the importance of using a good antivirus. Then try to explain to children that it can be dangerous to fill out online forms without the help of a parent and tell them to do so only after consultation. Finally, stay close to children when they create profiles linked to a nickname to use chat programs and establish how much time they can spend browsing the internet.

Informed adults and commitment of institutions and platforms

“The digital environment represents for the young generations – explains Raffaela Milano, Director of Italy-Europe Programs and Advocacy of Save The Children – an extraordinary opportunity to reduce inequalities and broaden horizons, but it is necessary that all children, girls and adolescents are accompanied in the acquisition of the essential skills to surf the web in a creative and conscious way. For this reason it is necessary to involve and train the adult reference figures, starting from parents and teachers, also on the new frontiers of Intelligence Artificial. At the same time, aware of how the average age of first access to the internet has dramatically lowered due to the pandemic, a strong joint commitment is needed on the part of institutions and platforms to prevent the serious risks that boys and girls can meet online and allow them safe navigation”.