Grown-ups and internet: the need for a “digital education”

Among Italian parents, 30% admits to lack proper knowledge about internet and online issues, in particular with regards to sensitive topics such as cyberbullying, suicide incitement, self-harm, hate speech, and sextortion. According to 39% of Italian parents, schools should be the reference point for a digital education, yet almost half (46%) of teachers do not consider themselves experienced enough to fill in this knowledge gap.

This is the picture coming from the latest Doxa Kids 2020 research for Telefono Azzurro, which surveyed children between 12 and 18 years old, parents of children 12-18 and teachers of middle and high-schools. The results of the research were presented on 11 February on the occasion of Safer Internet Day, the World Day for Network Security established by the European Commission.

We live in an extremely connected society, where children get in touch with online environments from early ages, and grow-up knowing how to use websites and apps. Almost half of the Italian parents (48%) believe that their children are able to use social media in a conscious way from the age of 16. A significant share (26%) believes this awareness is reached much earlier, at only 13 years old. However, 16%, believe that this competence matures at age 18.

Although parents have clear ideas about the age of “digital maturity” of their children, 45% do not check the age limits for accessing apps. This is what the Doxa Kids 2020 research for Telefono Azzurro revealed: the research focused on opinions of Italian parents and teachers on the relationship between young adults and the digital world.

DIGITAL SKILLS: THE FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN – According to the results coming from the research conducted by Doxa Kids, parents do discuss with their children about some of the risks that might derive from a misuse of the internet, such as cyberbullying (24%), bullying (24%), suicide incitement and self-harm (19%), hate speech (19%), sextortion (19%), privacy (17%) and sexting (16%). However, 30% of parents do not consider themselves prepared nor knowledgeable enough to properly educate their children in this regard.

The same feeling is shared by teachers as well, who admit lacking knowledge both in terms of contents, but also in terms of how to handle difficult situations where children might feel awkward or embarrassed. Among teachers, 46% believes they did not receive proper education on how to behave or even report situations of violence, danger and/or of misjudged and mocked children.

To fill the gap, teachers take into consideration different trainings and self-educational options: 54% consider face-to-face courses would be useful, 37% says the same of online courses, 31% mention website with advice and resources, 26% meetings with parents. Moreover, 1 in 5 teachers think that a telephone line meant to handle this type of problem could be useful.

GROWN-UPS’ FEARS: But what is grown-ups’ biggest fear? Research highlights how among the biggest fears of adults with respect to the digital realm is for their children to be exposed to online content that enhances anorexia, self-harm or suicide (21%), or that they’re exposed to pornographic content (18%) or dramatic and violent images. The same fears are shared by teachers as well: 1 in 5 fears that children might be exposed to dangerous activities or pornographic content.

ONLINE PORNOGRAPHY: HOW TO HANDLE IT? – 58% of parents believe their children’s peers are quite exposed to pornographic contents, which are considered potentially harmful. A significant share of parents and teachers (41% and 43% respectively), would consider a sever measure in order to make their children’s online life safer: they would completely block pornographic and violent websites.

Furthermore, 67% of teachers believe the school should have a central role in dealing with these topics. However, only 28% of them would talk about these topics with their students, because they do not know how to handle such sensitive discussions.

SCHOOL AS POINT OF REFERENCE – In our increasingly more digital schools, parents expect that schools can teach their children how to protect themselves from online dangers (39%) and that teachers are more updated on new technologies (22%). Teachers do share this point of view (43%) and they believe schools will increasingly more pay attention to new technologies in the future.

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