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French organisers: families must discuss screen use

Many issues worry parents about their children using the internet, from cyber-bullying, inappropriate images and video, to sorting out real information from “fake news”.

February 5 is Safer Internet Day, which will try to tackle and debate these issues.

The campaign began as an EU project in 2004 but now takes place in 140 countries.

This year the theme is “Together for a Better Internet”.

Organisers in France believe the most important issue is to learn how and to what extent we should incorporate digital screens into our daily lives.

Deborah Elalouf, president of Tralalere, which creates educational digital resources and organises France’s Safer Internet Day, said: “The greatest risk is that people are wasting too much time in front of screens and losing the sense of what is important.

“It is increasingly common to see everyone sitting together in a family but each one is interacting with their mobile and not the person next to them.”

She says online addiction is increasingly difficult to control because it has happened so fast and children are often learning faster than adults: “Almost three-quarters (73%) of children now have access to a screen of some sort.

“Parents are responsible for the education of their children but they are as lost as the younger generation they are meant to be guiding.

“Some 45% of children think their parents use the internet too much and they want their parents to set them guidelines of how and when to use it.”

She said the best way to correct the online/real life anomaly is to recognise it as an issue and discuss it: “The way forward is for adults and children to discuss it in a positive way to try and draw up good practices together.

“There are plenty of positive aspects to using the internet. For example, being able to talk to distant family members and friends and keeping informed.

“The big debate is how much time should you spend on it? For example, to start with, you could discuss whether your family should keep to the rule of no phones at the meal table.”

She says internet use should not be a taboo subject: “Children have a great deal to tell their parents. They can explain why and how they use Snapchat, as many parents have no idea what it actually is.

“The internet should not be seen as a ‘secret garden’ but as part of everyone’s life that can be openly discussed.”

The association’s website, www.internetsanscrainte.fr, has quizzes for parents and children to help them question their internet use. Safer Internet Day sites also have guidelines for parents about other subjects that may worry them.

On internetsanscrainte.fr there is practical advice under the heading Parents.

It ranges from use of Facebook – and how to make it as private as possible while insisting that children, who should only use it after the age of 13, must be reminded that any photo or information they post could go public – to search engines created specially for children.

Among these are Potati, Kidoz, Kiddle and Qwant Junior – a France-based search engine adapted for children aged between six and 13 years. They also suggest using Vikidia or Wikimini for under-12s as an alternative to Wikipedia.

There is similar information in English on the UK website saferinternet.org.uk.

Last year the theme of Safer Internet Day was “fake news”.

It was thought essential for young people to have a critical view on the information they are bombarded with so they can decide which is likely to be both relevant and accurate.

Ms Elalouf said: “We ran workshops in lycées. First we would show a documentary which ‘revealed’ that Aids had been introduced in a plot by former US president Barack Obama and Fidel Castro to destabilise the world.

“After a first showing, the students would comment, saying how dreadful this was.

“We then showed them that the image of the Aids virus was, in fact, the Ebola virus and so on, until they saw how films can be constructed to show a plausible ‘truth’ from something that is false.”

For its 2018 campaign, Safer Internet Day sent out a plea to the government to bring the fight against disinformation into the classroom, saying that schools are the place where this should be taught.

It said: “It seems to us that it is essential to educate and to guide young people in the ways of the media and information so as to give them the right reflexes from a young age.”

The statement went on to say this could be taught not just in a media lesson but through other subjects such as science, history and geography.

It is essential that pupils learn all the aspects of how the internet and social networks work, where information comes from and how it is spread, it said.

One year on, Mrs Elalouf says this is still one of the biggest challenges in the 21st century.

She said: “We must make sure our citizens are equipped to deal with the advantages and disadvantages of a digital world.”

  • In France, internet bullying website netecoute.fr allows children and teenagers to contact a specialist team, either by phone (0800 200 000) or text.  The site for reporting instances of child pornography, incitement to racism, suicide or terrorism is pointdecontact.net.

Both organisations are partners of Safer Internet Day. 

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