Wednesday 21 March 2018

Banning smartphones won't protect children from online risks, according to researchers

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Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Banning smartphones in schools is not the answer to the growing problem of protecting children from online risks, according to an Irish education technology company.

Education of children and parents is  what is key, and banning phones is a “misguided strategy when it ignores  the critical need for an effective education programme on the use of technology for children in Irish schools”, says the UCD-based start-up, Zeeko.

Zeeko works with parents, teachers and children to promote digital health and internet safety among primary and second-level pupils in Ireland.

The company made known its views on the digital age of consent and banning smartphones as the Government’s Open Policy Debate Forum on Internet Safety opened in Dublin today.

The Government has supported a recommendation that the digital age of consent by set at age of 13, although others argue that it should be 16.

The digital age of consent refers to age from which it is legal for data controllers to hold data gathered from minors. Parental consent will be required up to the age of 13.

Zeeko noted that the French government has announced plans to prohibit students up to the age of 15 from using mobile phones in schools, and some Irish teachers have issued similar calls.

The company, whose position is based on research conducted over more than a year on children’s online behaviour and digital health, says any age of consent that is agreed by the Government requires education from a very young age.

Dr Marina Everri, head of research at Zeeko, said “the risk with creating a solution that only communicates a specific age of consent as a solution is that children go underground when parents are not prepared and well-informed.

“Such a solution neglects the need for both parents and children to be educated on their online privacy and digital footprint. In an ever-changing technology environment, an evidence based education solution is critical.”

Dr Everri said providing education to children on technology required conducting research, “so we can effectively teach children how to think about online risks and data protection”.

Since it started in 2013, Zeeko has visited more 500 primary and second-level schools  and delivered safety seminars to over 80,000 pupils, 2,900 teachers and 6,000 parents. It has also surveyed more than 35,000 pupils on their digital habits and online behaviour.

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