DIT expert Brian O’Neill highlights importance of training children to help ensure they stay safe online¿


7th September 2011

Building skills and making children responsible Internet users is a challenge; still, it is a better strategy than a restrictive approach to usage according to DIT Expert Brian O’Neill.

Dr Brian O’Neill, Head of Research, DIT’s College of Arts and Tourism, and the national contact for EU Kids Online, the Europe-wide project investigating children’s internet use, was speaking at the Merriman Summer School held recently in Lisdoonvarna, Co. Clare.

In his address O’Neill disclosed findings from the most recent EU Kids Online survey which showed that, across Europe, 93 per cent of 9-16 year old users go online at least weekly, while 60 per cent use the Internet everyday or almost every day. The survey also showed that children’s internet access via mobile devices and games consoles was growing and there was a trend of younger children going online and of accessing social networking sites.

These numbers leave no doubt that the Internet is thoroughly embedded in children’s everyday lives, and with this, a number of challenges follow particularly that of ensuring children’¿s safety online.


Dr Brian O'Neill

According to Dr O’Neill there are two policy discourses at odds with one another in the debate on Internet safety. One focuses on mediation and protection, while the other puts an emphasis on building skills in order to enable children to use the Internet responsibly. O’Neill argues that our children’s safety online cannot be tackled solely by a restrictive approach to usage. “Even though there are several strong international efforts to improve online security, there is no denying that, when it comes down to individual use, it is the responsibility of the single user to use the Internet responsibly and to its full potential” said O’Neill

Because the internet is by its nature unregulated, there needs to be a focus on building skills so that children can negotiate the internet responsibly, and as such O’Neill said a strategy needed to be built around “a focus on empowerment rather than restriction of children’s usage, emphasising responsible behaviour and digital citizenship, treating children as a competent, participatory group . . . [and] . . . encouraging self-governing behaviour”. “

It is a challenge but it is an absolutely necessary one,” pointed out O’Neill

The internet is a fantastic resource with amazing communication, entertainment and resource possibilities for young people. But just as there are places in every city and town that are unsafe or inappropriate for children and teenagers there are places online too. By providing children with the skills to navigate the internet safely and by making children responsible Internet users we can help provide a secure online environment where everyone can safely enjoy the benefits and possibilities provided by the Internet. ¿

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