Media education is a complex and multi-faceted task. This page provides educational guidance and a brief introduction to the key concepts of digital citizenship. It has been developed for parents of children and teenagers who want to gain awareness of their own digital life and life of their children too.
The first step to take when developing an educational strategy for our children's use of digital media is to review our adult behaviour.
Firstly, no smartphones at mealtimes, in the bedroom at bedtime and when we go to pick up our children from school. The popularity of devices, and smartphones in particular, means that personal relationships are at risk of slipping into second place. Young children can often feel frustrated when their parents appear to snub them in favour of technology (distractive behaviour of the interlocutor, known as "phubbing").
It is therefore important that the parent does not allow technology to intrude on family time.
It is essential that parents also set a good example in terms of online social skills, ability to use a moderate and inoffensive tone, and managing their own privacy and that of their children (another reason why it is important not to publish photos of children's on social networks!). Successfully introducing these practices into our children's routines from a very young age, means laying the foundations for the correct use of digital tools, even during more important future periods, such as pre-adolescence and adolescence.
Smartphones and tablets should be introduced gradually in the early years, alongside practical manual activities, and always under the adult supervision. It is essential that an adult is present to monitor screen time, ensure that the applications and content are appropriate and to provide a model of positive use.
How much screen time is safe for children? Providing specific guidelines is difficult, however, the Italian Society of Paediatrics (SIP) recommends that screens should be completely avoided in children aged one and two, and also during meals and before going to sleep at any age. The Society recommends that screen time be limited to one hour a day in children aged 2 to 5 and to two hours a day in children aged 5 to 8.
Special restrictions should be set up on home devices to prevent unmonitored and casual use by young children who find them lying around. At this stage, it might be an idea to set up special parental control filters that can block completely age-inappropriate content "upstream".
Smartphones should be introduced gradually. More important than the age of the child, is the child's ability to manage the various communication, social and information-related situations that having a smartphone entails. When parents decide to take this step, the smartphone should not be simply handed over to the child and a child should not be immediately left to his own devices. In other words, a smartphone is a very powerful tool that children must learn to use correctly, and this takes practice. Until such a time as the child is sufficiently mature and able to exercise self-control, they could simply "borrow" their parents' smartphone for use for specific purposes (a game, an app, for chat) and for a set-time.
A child's first smartphone would also benefit from only having data access through the home Wi-Fi network.
Once the child receives a personal, internet-connected smartphone, establishing with the child when and how the device is to be used is essential, while evaluating (at least initially) the possibility of the child temporarily handing over the devices to his/her parents during specific times of the day (such as when sleeping or studying).
The aim of this gradual expansion of the sphere of autonomy to allow the boy or girl to develop self-control, both in terms of content and relations and in terms of respecting usage times and methods.
Children and young people, but in many cases adults too, tend to place too much focus on recreational activities (video games, watching videos, etc.) or communication (chat, comments and messages), ignoring some of the more complex functions with a common goal that can be incentivised through family use. It is very important to promote the Net, highlighting its potential through co-use, i.e. shared use. For instance, families can plan a holiday together using specific maps and applications, or use a 3D arts portal to look at the sculptures seen during the last family trip. Families can also look for information as a source of discussion, write a text together, and even - for the more advanced among us - program software together. Shared use has benefits on the development of digital skills in children, and also on the possibility of using digital technology for positive and enriching purposes. One of the primary objectives of digital education should therefore be to stimulate curiosity and creativity and to open our children up to the huge positive potential of the digital world. And this is yet another opportunity for parental growth too!
There is a lot of talk about Internet, smartphone and video game addiction. Fortunately, true addiction only affects a small minority of young people. What can be noted in these cases, which should be treated by competent specialists, is a veritable escape from reality into digital environments, with the loss of previous interests, social isolation and heavy consequences on physical and mental well-being.
Most boys and girls only tend towards excessive use, which needs to be better controlled. This is especially true at certain, particularly important times during their everyday routine and first and foremost during sleep and study.
A reduction in the hours of sleep is one of the main problems associated with the presence of smartphones in adolescents' lives. Sleeping well and sleeping enough is important at all stages of life, but especially during development. However, adolescence is also one of the most critical periods for social relationships, which are often very intense in this life stage. Digital tools can amplify these relationships through chat and messages, the huge daily volume of which - combined with the portable nature of the smartphone - can result in teenagers spending many hours online, even at night.
Similarly, home study time should be protected from the constant intrusions and interruptions of online social life. Empirical research has shown that in reality, multitasking (trying to do several things at the same time) does not work for even younger "digital natives" as it increases the likelihood of making mistakes and consequently of frustration.
Video games can also be all-encompassing in children's lives as they stimulate the most emotional part of the brain. Clear rules on the use of video games should therefore be established. The best thing to do is to set these rules together, following a discussion in which the legitimate needs of young people are weighed up against the equally legitimate concerns of parents. One good practice that can be established together is that of setting suitable times and spaces for video game use in advance. Or to place the smartphone in a common place during times that are most important such as dinnertime, certain study times or before bedtime. In addition, in order to prevent the anxiety that comes with depriving them from communicating in real time, young people should alert their closest contacts to the fact that they will not be online for a certain period of time (for the next two hours for example). This will allow them to reduce FOMO (fear of missing out), namely the fear of being cut off from a flow of communication, or the fear that others will interpret one's lack of response as a lack of interest.
The fact that young people are very adept in the use of digital devices does not mean that they are also able to clearly identify the risks associated with cyber-bullying, sexting (the sending of sexually explicit material online), online grooming and other online perils. Keeping an open channel of communication on technology-related matters within the family is necessary if young people are to develop the necessary critical thinking to help prevent these issues.In order to make this happen, adults are advised to avoid judgemental behaviour and to instead act as a point of reference. This will allow adults to guarantee reassuring supervision and, at the same time, show an interest in understanding the online life of their child and offer help and understanding. Research has shown that dialogue with conscious parents increases digital competence and the ability to move through online spaces. With respect to the risks mentioned, the long-term goal is to develop a cautious and sceptical attitude to what we find online, what we write online and what we read online. Such an attitude should prompt young people to always bear in mind that not all social profiles are real, that keeping online content private is difficult and sometimes impossible, and that the fact that a news story was "forwarded" by a friend does not mean that it is reliable.
Shared ownership and shared use of the tool, as discussed in other paragraphs, may work due to the establishment of a regular exchange of views between parent and child on these very matters.
The Internet is a network that connects digital devices and terminals around the world. The World Wide Web, more commonly known as the "Web", is an Internet service (another example e-mail) most often referred to by the word Internet. The Web is a set of sites and platforms that can be surfed using a browser, such as Chrome or Safari.
One of the main characteristics of the Web is its open architecture: everyone can publish on the Web and there are often no filters that monitor content quality. Its most fascinating and "democratic" aspect, this is also somewhat of an issue as great care must be taken when selecting and evaluating information found online. Just because information has been published on the Internet does not mean that the information is accurate!
It is extremely important to teach young people this approach. Although more adept at using digital tools, young people need guidance on how to critically evaluate the information they find online. Teaching and learning to always ask basic questions on the Web content is always advisable: Who published the content? What is their aim? What do they know about the subject?
One of the first tools children use are search engines. Search engines, such as Google, Bing or DuckDuckGo, are software programs developed to allow users to search for websites and web content. When a search string is entered in the search box, search engines return a list of results that are ranked by relevance according to their algorithms.
These algorithms use different criteria, such as the number of links that lead to the site via keywords (i.e. how popular the site is). Higher-ranking results are not necessarily more reliable, of higher quality than the other results or more relevant to our search.
Every website, regardless of where it appears in the search results, should be evaluated based on criteria such as i) source reliability, ii) commercial or public nature, iii) accuracy, iv) linguistic correctness of the information.
Launched in 2001, Wikipedia is an encyclopedia that was launched as part of a very ambitious project: to allow internet users to share their knowledge with others and build a free "universal" encyclopedia that provides a neutral point of view. In most cases, all users can create, edit or add content to an entry and their work is seen by other users. Wikipedia is one of the best and most exhaustive information sources on the Web, and some of its entries are very accurate and complete. This is why it is often used to quickly find information, even for educational purposes.
Nevertheless, it should always be borne in mind that this platform can also contain unclear and biased information as it is based on voluntary contributions and its open architecture can be used to highlight or hide certain information. This is why, when it comes to researching a specific topic, for a school research project for example, it is always better to double check any information found on Wikipedia against other sources that provide a scientific review of the topics and that are considered more neutral and authoritative.
Fake news and information often circulates the Web. We find such news on certain sites or we receive it directly through posts on social networks (e.g. Facebook). There are various reasons that lead certain people to post fake online content. More often than not the motivation is financial: attracting high numbers of people to a site with a sensational news story can bring financial rewards through the sale of advertising space and can, as such, be highly profitable. The spreading of fake news can also be politically motivated, so as to promote current events articles written from a certain political perspective. There are others still who spread fake news for their own personal amusement.
After reading news from an unknown source, it's always good idea to try to find the news on a search engine to see if other more reliable newspapers have published it. Users with more advanced digital skills can also run other searches, such as uploading the images used in the article onto a search engine and running a reverse image search to see what other articles the images have appeared in. This allows users to obtain information that will help them to ascertain if a news story is reliable, when it is from and if it was reported objectively in the article we read.
New technologies have greatly increased the intensity, forms and frequency of our communications, in many ways eliminating the physical distance between people. There are, however, marked differences between face-to-face and mediated communication. In the case of the former, there is normally no downtime and communication proceeds in real time, without interruption, and with all the baggage of non-verbal messages (facial expression, body movements and tone of voice).
On the other hand, messaging technologies often give us longer to decide what to communicate and even allow us to carefully select an emoticon that expresses what we are feeling in a simple way, without reliance on non-verbal channels of communication. One of the most problematic aspects of digital communication is therefore the inability to immediately perceive the effect of our message on the person we are talking to and to consequently change the way we express ourselves.
During face-to-face communication, we are able to immediately perceive the effect of our message. If the other person founds what we are saying boring, amusing, embarrassing, hurtful or gratifying, we are able to automatically feel those sensations ourselves, through empathy, however this does not occur during digital communication. This inability to receive immediate visual feedback on the effect of our messages is the basis of one of the distortions of digital communication, namely hate speech.
Not being able to see the effects of what we communicate can indeed encourage us to express negative emotions without any filter and sometimes violently. One way to prevent this behaviour, which can be easily taught and transmitted, is to always imagine that what we are writing to another person is being communicated in person, face-to-face, and to carefully reflect before replying to a message. It is also advisable to teach children (and ourselves) to decide on the most suitable method of communication for addressing various situations, reserving face-to-face communication for more emotionally sensitive issues.
Social networks are online platforms developed to allow users to create virtual online profiles, through which they can socialise and exchange multimedia materials with other people. Many social networks provide users with a newsfeed, a sort of virtual bulletin board, which updates in real time and where users can find and interact with the content posted by their contacts. Users also create their own digital profile, which can be kept either private (allowing only approved people to access it) or public. At present, the most popular social networks are Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Some, such as LinkedIn, are specifically for the building of professional relationships. Social networks are useful tools for keeping in touch with people who live far away, and for promoting our digital identity to a wide audience. Although it is usually free to use social networks, platform owners monetise our online presence almost without us noticing. They, in fact, collect data on our online behaviour, i.e. our preferences, our clicks (which help companies gain a better understanding of how to sell their products), and then sell the data. They also sell paid advertising to other companies. As a result, our newsfeeds are customised, i.e. tailored to our preferences, and information and content that may interest and be preferable to us is highlighted.
Social networks are now important tools for managing part of our social life and can be important sources of information if developed in a targeted, informed way.
Cyberbullying is a form of bullying that takes place online and consists of repeated and systematic acts of aggression and denigration. There are several responses that you need to learn about and use them eventually in case if you should be subjected to behaviour such as this. If the attacks are on children and are isolated and not systematic (basically the most frequent type of cyberbullying), the incident must be reported to adults such as parents or teachers.
This is why it is important for adults to always maintain an open channel of communication as relates to this issue, and show that they are open to dialogue (see previous paragraphs). A possible immediate response to cyberbullying is to block those contacts responsible for the cyberbullying on chat or on your device, which will "ban" and eliminate them, at least in the digital environment. In the event of particularly serious behaviour, which adults believe should be prosecuted, taking screenshots of the images and messages is of vital importance.
It should lastly be noted that in the event of bullying and cyberbullying, the responsibility lies not only with the person responsible for the violent behaviour but also with those who witness the behaviour without intervening, who are therefore at risk of becoming "followers" of the cyberbully. Those who witness violent behaviour should be the first to report it to adults.
Any one of us conveys an image of himself to others, through a series of indicators, such as a CV for example. On the Internet, and on social networks in particular, we can leave traces of our activities that build an image of us that is not in line with what we would like to communicate.
Literature on digital relations has shown that the content we publish is persistent, i.e. it can potentially remain on the Web forever, can be indefinitely replicated and can be searched for by automatic means. In this case, it is clear that it can be very easy to lose control of content once it has been published on the Web and that it can sometimes be impossible to stop its circulation, even if we believe that the people it is sent to are trustworthy. It is important to be aware that the ease and speed with which a photo can be "shared" with others is, in this case, not merely convenient but is also a risk. Moreover, although the prospect may seem remote to teenagers, it should be noted that potential future employers increasingly look for information online and visit their candidates' social network profiles.
This increasingly common practice demands that young people build their digital image with care.
Thanks to digital technologies, activities such as writing text, creating photos and videos and other multimedia materials, are becoming easier and quicker to do. Each of us therefore has the opportunity to give our creativity free rein and to share our creations with people near and far. If in the past, in the era of television or print media, those who produced content were part of a specific professional category with a specific preparation and professional ethic, today there are an increasing number of prosumers (i.e. producer-consumers) who not only use the content but actively contribute to its creation and dissemination.
However, if the technical skills needed to produce and publish content are so commonplace, the critical skills needed to foresee the consequences that publishing our content has on the various audiences that will see it, are far less frequent. This change in the media world means that we are all responsible for the quality of the infosphere, i.e. the media environment created by the information and content published on the Web.
Before publishing content on the Web or writing a comment, we should therefore ask ourselves if is really worth it and if the content is quality content, while always keeping in mind that it will be seen by a potentially vast audience with very different cultural background, expectations and ways of seeing the world.
The Web (and Web 2.0 in particular) provides us with various tools, channels and platforms for expressing ourselves. The latter are mainly websites, social networks and blogs. Social networks are online platforms that allow the creation of virtual social networks, within which people can communicate and share different types of content (videos, photos, links, texts, etc.). In addition to social networks, which are one of the most popular platforms among young people, there are also websites and blogs. Blogs are a specific type of website that are mostly used as personal sites and in which content is displayed chronologically with the most recent content first. Another aspect of blogs that differentiate them from traditional websites is that they have a large comments area, making it easy for visitors to interact.
Thanks to tools such as WordPress, Google Site and Joomla, creating a website has becoming easier and less expensive in recent years. For parents with more experience and with advanced digital skills, creating a website or blog with their child - possibly on their favourite hobby - can be an excellent opportunity to co-use technology (see previous entries).
There are also dedicated platforms for the publication of specific forms of expression such as short stories, comics, music and poetry.
Although the Web is an open environment in which users share different types of content, this does not mean that material can be freely reused. Some published content is protected by copyright. Copyright is infringed when protected content is used without obtaining permission from the copyright holder. If, for example, we download a copyright protected image online image and reuse it on our website, we are infringing copyright. This can be avoided by searching for freely reusable content through search engines.
On Google images, for example, clicking on the "settings" button will display various customisable options including "usage rights". This section allows users to select, from all the available images, only those images that have been "labelled for reuse" and that are not protected by copyright. Users can therefore be more confident when distributing content created using pre-existing material without any risk of legal repercussions.
Before creating content and publishing it online, it is always better to clarify a few key points. Who is the target audience? The communication register we choose will vary depending on this question and on the audience, we are trying to reach. For example, if we are using a professional social network (such as LinkedIn), and hope that a potential employer will notice a post that highlights our career success, our communication register will clearly be more formal than the one we would have used in a non-professional social network (such as Facebook), where we only communicate with our closest friends.
Increasing use of social networks, which can put contacts from different environments (more or less close circles of friends, acquaintances and professional contacts) in touch with each other, the ability to limit the reference audience by message type, through the use of special filters, is becoming increasingly important.
Privacy is important due to the risks associated with the disclosure of our personal information. An initial example is the risk that the information we provide online may be used by third parties for purposes that are illegal or that might cause us harm. For example, a public post in which we announce that we are going on holiday could be used by criminals to identify when we are not at home and to possibly organise a break-in. A second risk arises from potential use of the vast amounts of data we provide large companies every day. The Cambridge Analytica scandal, for instance, arose from suspected exploitation of the information users provided about themselves through social networks such as Facebook, for political advantage.
This information resulted in the company being suspected of targeting users with personalised messages capable of swaying opinion in order to encourage them to vote in a certain way. This goes to show that our online behaviour can be analysed and used to encourage us to purchase certain products or to adopt a certain type of behaviour, without us even being aware of it. Over the past fifty years, cognitive science has unfortunately demonstrated that our behaviour is more easily influenced that we would like to believe.
This is especially true for those who spend many hours online: our critical capacity must be sufficiently developed to allow us not to disclose sensitive information that could be used in a way that might harm us in the future. Lot of the responsibility for possible data manipulation is hands of companies, however we must educate others (and ourselves) to keep the sensitive personal information we publish online to a minimum and to be aware that everything we do can be easily traced.
As should be clear to everyone who lives in a digital society, not everything on the Internet is what it seems. Let's take a few examples. An e-mail announcing a key win of hundreds of thousands of euros can, in actual fact, contain a link that infects PCs with a dangerous computer virus. A social network contact request from a beautiful young male or female model who looks super-friendly, that we don't know at all, has almost certainly been sent by someone else, etc. When a message, a contact request, a banner or a notification seem "too good to be true", they are probably not what they seem. We must learn to be sceptical and not to follow our innate tendency to believe in information that we find pleasing and gratifying.
There is also the possibility of someone getting hold of another person's password to access their social profile and send messages in their name. This is done for commercial purposes, to commit computer fraud or simply to defame someone. This is why we need to suitably protect our login details for the various services and immediately notify our acquaintances if unusual messages are being sent from their profiles.
Electronic transactions for the online purchase of goods and services have become extremely popular in recent years. Users transacting on an unknown site must always check that the shop provides all key information, such as a reference telephone number, a detailed product description, the delivery method, conditions of sale, etc.
Any search engine will tell users if other users have reviewed the shop. Making online credit card payments via a shared PC or public network is not recommended. Users should also ensure that the site uses international security systems. This can be verified by checking the site URL, which should include the wording https:// before the site name (the "s" stands for "secure"). Where this is present, an image of a padlock is also displayed before the URL in the address bar.
The advent of smartphones means that children are now experimenting with the world of online transactions, and are able to customise their devices by installing Apps and additional services. It should be borne in mind that some of these Apps are paid Apps and that parental agreement should always be obtained.
A password is our main line of defence when it comes to protecting our online data and must be used in the best possible way. Passwords that contain easily identifiable personal data (dates of birth, childrens' or relatives' names, etc.) should be avoided. Instead, complex passwords that contain both uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers or symbols, should be created. Using the same password for multiple sites or accounts should also be avoided.
This clearly makes remembering the ever-increasing number of passwords we need to access many sites and services, very difficult. Several strategies can be used to overcome this problem: for example, passwords can be stored in a password-protected file or online password storage and management services can be used. There is a small monthly charge for these services but they provide a convenient, highly secure alternative.
Modern technology offers ample opportunities for communication, information, self-expression and entertainment, but is so pervasive that it risks invading our daily lives and being counterproductive. Mobile technology such as smartphones in particular, place us in permanent state of "communication overload", in which the flow of communication constantly exceeds our ability to process it.
Recent studies (see, for example, OFCOM 2017) have shown that most users now feel that they are unable to suitably restrict their use of digital devices. In other words, many of us feel that we use these technologies too much, or use them too much for certain activities at the expense of other activities, and this can affect our wellbeing.
Using technology for many hours a day can result in bad posture which, over time, can be harmful to our health. The main problems reported are back and neck issues. In order to maintain good posture when working at a computer, we need to have some points of reference (see the following page). It is also worth noting that holding a smartphone in your hand with your head bent forward for extended periods of time can cause neck problems.
Eye strain is another possible repercussion of technology on our health. Eye strain and fatigue, excessively dry eyes and difficulty focusing at different distances have often been attributed to heavy screen use.
It should also be borne in mind that the light emitted from screens can interfere with the body's circadian rhythm. The human body has a self-regulating mechanism through which it increases the production of melatonin (the sleep hormone) during the hours of darkness. A number of recent scientific studies have shown that night-time screen exposure, especially the "blue light" emitted from screens, can interfere with this mechanism resulting in lighter, less relaxing sleep. This is why it is always best to try to avoid screen exposure before going to bed, especially when it comes to children. The "eye protection" mode (for those who have Android) or "night mode" (for those who have iOS) should also be used in the evening.
Stress is a physiological response to an external stimulus. When we need to solve a problem or perform a task, we can say that we are "stressed". Stress per se is not a bad thing as low-level stress motivates and stimulates us. The problem arises when stress levels exceed a certain threshold, impairing our performance and producing negative emotions. The vast amount of information and messages sent and received through new technologies can be a source of stress, to the extent that we struggle to keep it under control.
Stress can be further exacerbated by multitasking, i.e. attempting to perform several tasks at the same time. This is because the human brain can only focus on one thing at a time. Trying to do many things in a short timeframe means forcing the brain to work beyond its capabilities, constantly shifting focus from one task to another.
The result is twofold: on the one hand, our performance, is reduced, i.e. the quality with which we perform the task, and on the other hand, excessive stress levels can produce negative emotions. This can happen to adults when they try to write a message while driving. In this case, the attempt to multitask translates into a risk to safety as driving performance and attention to hazards decrease dramatically when multitasking. The increase in road accidents in recent years is partly due to this practice, which can be fatal.
Educating both young people and ourselves to do one thing at a time when necessary, helps to ensure reduced levels of stress, to improve performance and to avoid risks that can have an impact on our physical and mental health.
Software tools that track time spent online and send periodic alerts to users with a breakdown of their activities are available to help users achieve balance in terms of the amount of time spent in front of a screen./p>
These types of applications can be very useful when you need to rethink your use of digital media, especially mobile devices. Some of the most well-known time monitoring tools are RescueTime, Time and Moment. These Apps often allow users to keep track of time spent on both smartphones and on tablets or PCs, with separate or aggregate analysis.
In addition to apps and to software, time monitoring features are increasingly integrated into smartphone operating systems. iPhones, for example, already allow users to monitor time spent on the device in the last seven days, with a breakdown of the minutes spent on the various apps. Google has now also added similar functionality to the new Android operating system, which confirms that this is a central issue for large Web companies. However, in the long run, a balance must be struck in order to ensure that online time management does not become yet another stress-inducing performance measurement. In this perspective, the aim of these tools is to help users to independently control their use of digital devices.
This section was drawn up with the scientific advice of Marco Gui and Marco Fasoli, “Digital Wellbeing”, Research Centre, Department of Sociology and Social Research, University of Milano-Bicocca.
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