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Hey, what happened to Safer Internet Day?

Well, it’s Safer Internet Day, February 5th, 2019, and sadly there is very little exposure out there in mainstream media. And yet in the UK, more than 1000 organisations have gathered together to raise awareness. Facebook’s Safer Internet Day page shows events in Germany, Spain, Austria, Holland among others, while our country’s own national campaign is limited.

Agreed, we here in South Africa have some serious issues that we need to manage, and perhaps a safer internet isn’t the most important priority. But if you ask a parent if they are concerned about cyberbullying, or sexting, addiction, behavioral problems, or the associated mental health issues, then they will most surely tell you it’s a priority. It suddenly hits much closer to home.

Schools are occasionally bringing in experts and it’s admirable but largely we are attending to the issue from the top down – what apps are a problem – as opposed to the bottom up – how do I establish a fair and sound set of digital values and guidelines in my home, in my school, with my teaching staff, or even as a mental health professional?

It starts with education. And then collaboration – working in groups – schools, parents, and students. And finally commitment. Building a culture or a habit is a set of actions that is perpetuated consistently in order for it to create resonance, and establish a firm footing. And while the interim solution of discussing dangerous apps and websites is a valuable starting point, it’s working deeper into the foundation (realistic values and guidelines) that will make the difference. When a child tires of one app or website, or game, they move to another. But if they have developed an awareness, which allows them to make better choices across their online activity, they will behave safer and smarter over the long term.

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