TikTok, children and digital civics

For some time I have volunteered for a non-profit association called “Social Warning”. This is a project promoted by the Digital Ethical Movement, founded by a very young boy who developed the idea precisely to bridge the gap between the information being created digitally in schools and the way children 10 to 17 interact with smartphones and social media.

The association ensures that volunteers can propose the schools to hold free meetings with children, teachers and parents, so that they can deal with technology in the extended sense and not only focus on risks and sanctions, but also talk about digital citizenship education. and of the beautiful possibilities in connection with digital communication. I participated with great enthusiasm from the first moment, and I hope to start a series of meetings also in our Comprehensive Institute.

What is it specifically about?

At the end of each meeting, students are asked to fill out a questionnaire, which is used to collect information about smartphone and social media usage habits. With this data, the report from the Scientific Observatory on Digital Education, which is promoted by the non-profit Social Warning, is published every year since 2018.

Since 2021, the awareness project has been extended to a European level, and the evidence collected by the Observatory is then taken up by various national newspapers, such as Wired, Forbes, Rai, Il Sole 24 Ore, etc.

The sample involved for the 2022 edition consisted of around 15,000 children aged between 12 and 16 years. The information that has come to light is on the one hand very interesting and on the other hand worrying.

33% of young people spend from 2 to 4 hours online every day, while 42% have no limits imposed by family members, who in 66% of cases do not even impose special rules or controls on the use of social networks and various apps. The services most used by the young people interviewed are whatsapp (92%), Youtube (78%), Instagram (77%), TikTok (71%), and so on and so forth. Facebook is second last with a penetration of 9.4%, which confirms that the users of the social network in blue tend to be adults.

Digital natives use the Internet (88.5%) mainly to seek answers to questions or to clear doubts and curiosity, while only 0.4% say they do so with the help of books.

Almost half routinely share images online (selfies or other images), and almost half of the cases declare that they have regretted something previously posted. More than 9,000 of the 15,000 young people who took part in the survey say they are not aware that pictures and videos posted online could one day be consulted by someone looking for a job.

These data make us reflect: a good knowledge of the dynamics and risks associated with social networks and smartphones is often lacking, starting with the families themselves. Children need to acquire information and develop digital culture to reduce the risk of unconscious use of these tools.

In order to be able to talk about digital and social media in a credible way to young students, it is necessary to demonstrate competence, knowledge and authority on the subject. Often they are placed on the same level as “bullying” and “cyberbullying”, while the two are very far apart.

Along with “cyberbullying”, we should also deal with other issues that are no less important or delicate, such as “digital reputation”, “revenge porn”, “sexting”, online fraud, solicitation and addiction to social networks. There is a name for this addiction: nomophobia, also called disconnection syndrome and describes the fear of being disconnected from the mobile phone network. It is a disorder that affects young people more and more, and unfortunately it often happens with the unconscious complicity of the families.

However, in addition to risks, we should also talk about opportunities, such as the evolution of the way of communication, the innovation in the digital world and professional perspectives related to careers in the digital world. All these topics should be treated with calmness and competence not only addressing the children, but also (and sometimes above all) the families, avoiding hasty and harsh judgments, which only create distance and mistrust between the parties.

With this leader, I have decided to move away from arguments on Facebook and the skirmishes between commentators and digital haters, because I believe that the subject of children and young people is infinitely more important and that today, if properly informed and trained, they can be more prepared digital citizens of tomorrow and aware.

I hope to be able to tell in the near future what experiences can be made at the schools in the area.

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