Bali, Indonesia -- I'm at the Internet Governance Forum (IGF #IGF2013) in Bali where I'm participating in a workshop titled "Child Protection vs. Child Rights: Are They in Conflict?" As a child safety advocate, I've long argued that young people need "digital literacy" to understand how to safely navigate the online world. That can be protecting their emotional well-being by helping them avoid or deal with cyberbullying but it can also be helping young people understand how to protect their privacy online or to make sure they're not posting images or other content that could harm their reputation. It also involves teaching empathy and social-emotional learning to help youth better understand how to treat their peers, whether they be close friends or people they only encounter online.
"The Kids Are All Right"
My personal approach to child safety is to start by assuming that "the kids are all right" and -- as a default -- treat children and teens respectfully by providing them with the tools and information they need to protect themselves and respect others. I've long said that the best Internet filter is the one that runs between the child's ears, and have never been a huge fan of widespread use of parental control or monitoring software, except when parents have seen a real need to use it for their kids. It's not that I'm against using tools that limit or monitor what kids do, it's just that I think the tools need to be used thoughtfully, only when necessary, and not be a substitute for good parenting or helping kids develop their ability to do what's right without external controls.
Yet, there are those who feel that most kids need to be controlled or monitored, and there are plenty of companies selling such tools. Schools too often use control software not only to block porn and sites that advocate violence or drug and alcohol use but often also block social networking sites, YouTube and other media that kids commonly access away from school.
To explore this issue, I organized a panel at IGF titled "Child Protection vs. Child Rights." Article 13 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that "The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds." Yet in the very countries that have ratified this convention, parents and schools are denying young people access to some types of content in the name of protection.
No simple answers
There are no simple answers. There are lots of adults who strongly believe in free speech rights for kids yet at the same time feel it's necessary to limit their access to certain types of content and media. But, based on the research I've seen, a one-size fits all to Internet safety can't work. Some kids take extraordinary risks on and offline but most kids are far more savvy than many adults give them credit for.
Panelists include John Carr, Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety (UK); Janice Richardson, European Schoolnet and Insafe (Belgium); Nevine Tewfit, Ministry of Communications (Egypt); Yannis Li, Dot Kids Foundation (Hong Kong) and Larry Magid, ConnectSafely.org (US). The moderator is Anjan Bose, ECPAT International (Thailand).
The IGF is a United Nations sponsored forum that explores a wide variety of Internet policy issues. It's a multi-stakeholder event with participation from governments, industry, non-profit groups and others concerned with Internet policy issues