Who is my child talking to?
What are they looking at online?
Is my child safe?
These are questions that are very common for parents. And unfortunately, many parents see themselves in the uncomfortable position of not being very well versed in tech, apps, social media, and online etiquette. Many a parent has had to ask their child how to unlock their phone, install an app, or remove annoying notifications. Parents can limit their children’s screen time but they are not necessarily able to identify a fake app or a phishing scam.
On the other hand, teenagers are much savvier than many adults give them credit for. Nevertheless, they lack experience to properly exercise caution and deal with a dangerous situation online. Tech natives are not necessarily security-literate. Youths are a substantial part of online users. According to the UN, 75% of 15 to 24-year-olds are online in 2022, compared with 65% for the rest of the world’s population .
Social media and technology in general have a profound impact on the experience of growing up. Long gone are the days in which one had to call a friend’s house phone and face the potential embarrassment of having to talk to the friend’s parent. Now it is more likely that said friend has a smartphone and one can reach out through their Instagram DMs or Snapchat account directly. Going to the mall after school to hang out with friends is a thing of a bygone era. Schools and clubs are no longer the only places to socialize. Digital spaces allow youths to hang out with classmates, friends, family members, and even friends that they may have never seen in person.
The impact of technology in childhood and adolescence is even more considerable when we take into account that many youngsters have spent a part of their formative years under lock down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now the digital space was not only for hanging out, online shopping, and entertainment, it was also the space for learning, getting in touch with teachers and classroom peers and attending family gatherings.
This, however, is not risk free.
Challenges for internet security and youths
According to the Council of Europe Strategy for the Rights of the Child, these are the main challenges faced to ensure the safe use of technology for all children
- Digital services or products may not be designed with the needs or best interests of children in mind.
- Access to inappropriate or harmful content.
- Online bullying and hate speech.
- Interference with rights to privacy and personal data protection.
- Information disorders
- Overuse or online addiction.
- Online sexual exploitation or sexual abuse.
- Insufficient digital citizenship and media education for children, caretakers, and professionals working with children.
Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Massachusetts conducted an online survey of over 730 youths aged 13 to 15. The survey assessed the participants’ exposure to content risk, contact risk, and criminal risk. According to the study, the top 3 most frequently reported situations were coming across images of violence (32%), followed by coming across sexual content (31%), and bullying by friend and/or acquaintances (29%)
It is worth pointing out that even in online spaces there are notorious differences with regards of the type of security issues boys and girls face. The aforementioned study also revealed that gender was predictive of exposure to both sexual images or content and images of violence. The study showed that females had twice the odds of coming across sexual images or content.
According to the European Commission, half of all 11 to 16-year-olds in the EU had encountered one or more of ten frequent internet risks, which include cyber-bullying, privacy concerns in connected toys, 'sexting', exposure to harmful or disturbing content, grooming, and fake news
BSFS and its contribution to European actions
An important element of the Be Secure Feel Secure project was technology and its use to improve security in the city of Piraeus. That being said, it is only fitting that the program included interventions to improve security in digital environments aimed at teenagers.
BSFS organized several information seminars, consulting workshops, as well as a special session that informed and raised awareness to high-school students about everyday crime affecting teenagers, especially cyber bullying and the risks associated with the internet.
Students learned how to protect themselves from bullying, and internet related risks.
As a European project, BSFS’ actions to encourage a culture of cyber security among teenagers contribute to a larger discussion at a European level.
In recent years -and undoubtedly due to the increased exposure of a younger demographic to the internet during the COVID 19 pandemic and lock down- various tools have been introduced in Europe to protect young people online.
In March 2022, the Council of Europe published the Strategy of the Rights of the Child (2022-2027). Among its strategic objectives and action, it includes the access to and safe use of technologies for all children.
In May 2022, the European Commission adopted a new strategy for a Better Internet for Kids (BIK+)
In November 2022 the Digital Services Act (DSA) entered into force. It is a uniform set of rules to ensure the protection of users and businesses. It regulates the obligations of digital services that act as intermediaries in their role of connecting consumers with goods, services, and content
In December 2022, the Presidents of the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council signed the European Declaration on Digital Rights and Principles.
2023 marks the 20th edition of Safer Internet Day, a landmark event celebrated in nearly 180 countries and territories around the world. The aim is to raise awareness of emerging online issues, such as cyber-bullying, digital identity, and social networking.
The project’s actions also included the collection of good practices implemented in other European countries aiming to prevent threats to children online: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Poland, Portugal, and Romania. These initiatives ranged from mobile apps and peer-to-peer counseling to creative approaches such as theatrical play to understand the issues of 'sexting'.
From the experience of the BSFS project, the European Forum For Urban Security summarized a list of guidelines for local authorities to implement practices to raise awareness of cyber security, which include
Getting insights about emerging local trends related to risks and safety online;
Select adequate dissemination channels for each target group;
Join forces with other stakeholders to guarantee that target groups are reached.
 United Nations, "United Nations - Child and Youth Safety Online," 2022. [Online]. Available: https://www.un.org/en/global-issues/child-and-youth-safety-online. [Accessed April 2023].
 European Commission, "Council of Europe Strategy for the Rights of the Child (2022-2027)," March 2022. [Online]. Available: https://rm.coe.int/council-of-europe-strategy-for-the-rights-of-the-child-2022-2027-child/1680a5ef27.
 E. Savoia, N. Harriman, M. Su, T. Cote and N. Shortland, "Adolescents’ Exposure to Online Risks: Gender Disparities and Vulnerabilities Related to Online Behaviors," Int J Environ Res Public Health, p. 27;18(11):5786, 2021.
 European Commission DSM, "Better Internet for kids - Safer Internet for the EU," 2018. [Online]. Available: https://www.betterinternetforkids.eu/saferinternet4eu.
 Better Internet For Kids, "Better Internet For Kids," 2023. [Online]. Available: https://www.betterinternetforkids.eu/.
 European Commission, "Questions and Answers: Digital Services Act," 2022. [Online]. Available: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/QANDA_20_2348. [Accessed 2023].
 EFUS, "Acting locally to prevent cyber-threats against children and youngsters," 2022. [Online]. Available: https://efus.eu/topics/audits-methodology/acting-locally-to-prevent-cyber-threats-against-children-and-youngsters/.