Miner Editorial | Internet literacy is important for all ages

How important is it to be internet literate? The short answer to that is quite clear: very important.

There are fast-approaching 3.5 billion internet users, and while the internet offers a stream of information to experience and share, navigating securely in the online world can be a demanding task. A basic knowledge set is required.

Even the youngest of the digital natives seems able to manipulate all kinds of digital devices, create and upload content, and find entertaining things online. This leads people to assume that their children and grandchildren are internet competent and completely web savvy.

However, that is not true. Digital natives still need guidance. They need a comprehensive digital literacy, which means those teaching them also need to be digitally literate.

Internet literacy is defined by Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications as the ability necessary to access the internet while incorporating the following three points: the ability to address illegal and harmful contents on the internet appropriately; the ability to communicate on the internet appropriately; and the ability to protect their privacy and perform security measures.

The main issue is that many people don’t have a great deal of internet literacy themselves. Most of the internet remains a mystery to many people.

In 2005, the internet was largely used as a means of communication. About 57 percent of internet use related to email, instant messaging and other methods of chatting, while 43 percent of internet use was for general web browsing. In 2011, a digital literacy and safety skills study done by the European Union, parsed those numbers down to children and their internet use.

The largest portion of internet use in this study of 25,000 children, ages 9-16, was related to school work. Directly following that was internet games and watching video clips.

Digital literacy and internet safety have emerged as some of the most important issues in our world. Today, with 52 percent of all children now having access to one of the newer mobile devices at home – either a smartphone, a video iPod, or an iPad or other tablet device – it is crucial that children understand how to navigate the digital world responsibly and safely. Parents should feel comfortable discussing internet safety with their child early and often so that they can manage their child’s online experience.

It takes a lot of trust, but also a thorough discussion about values to build into a confident and safe internet user. What is important to teach children about online is very similar to what children are taught about face-to-face interaction. We teach children not to talk to strangers; the same applies to online. Don’t give out personal information, think before you post, tell an adult when an uncomfortable or scary situation arises, the list goes on.

There are plenty of resources available for parents or caregivers who want to learn. The Council of Europe has developed a free, downloadable, 147-page handbook (https://rm.coe.int/internet-literacy-handbook/1680766c85) about digital literacy that goes into detail about the pitfalls and benefits to being a part of the online world. It has plenty of information and ways for parents to be involved in their children’s online lives.

Visit your child’s favorite sites together and show them sites you approve, familiarize yourself with age-appropriate social networking sites and learn how to set privacy settings on those sites, teach your child to treat people online respectfully in the same way they would offline, and demonstrate good online behavior that your child can emulate.

Help your child understand the difference between content and advertisements. Contests and free offers, even though they may look fun, can lead to harmful viruses that ruin your computer.

The most important thing is to talk to children. Different types of parental controls can offer great advantages but to truly teach children, it is important to communicate expectations and values around media time and access. Children can spend a lot of time connected to the TV, internet and their gaming devices, and it can quickly get in the way of other things in young people’s lives.

We are online to share ideas, and at the same time building knowledge and understanding. We may challenge conventional wisdom, and we may create networks for positive change. This is particularly evident for younger generations for whom the internet offers endless opportunities to explore, learn, socialize and create, which in turn contribute directly to their personal development. It has become their primary source of freedom and information in growing up, and gives them the means to exercise their rights and freedoms online.

Digital literacy means many things. It means helping children understand their digital footprint and how everything they post online is forever stored and accessible. It means teaching them how to communicate with others using social media appropriately. It means helping children understand that not everything on the internet is real and how to critically evaluate any information they come across.

Although the internet harbors potential pitfalls, cautionary measures can be taken and assistance provided. In order not to deter users, especially young users, the internet must not be presented as a dark place full of danger and caution. It should be everyone’s aim to provide support in using the internet knowledgeably, creatively, safely and fearlessly.