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Fears and myths surrounding the internet and young people in care

*Bill, age 14,  is with a foster family in England.  He helped make an internet safety cartoon which explains Five Rivers’ Internet Safety Policy to its staff, carers and looked after children.  This article is based on an interview with Olivia Doherty, Five Rivers’ participation lead, and was first published in FosterTalk magazine for foster carers, Summer 2018 edition.

Bill – tell me a little bit about yourself?

I go to school and I play a lot of sports. I usually spend about 3 to 4 hours per day on the internet at my foster home after school or on the weekends. I use SnapChat, Instagram and Twitter a little. Young people don’t really use Facebook anymore – Facebook is used more by older people; most young people have deleted their profiles. I watch YouTube the most.

How did you get involved in this Internet Safety project?

Some of us children and young people from Five Rivers were involved in the ‘Growing Up Digital’ Project. People from the Children’s Commissioner came and carried out research, looking at the different experiences of children from all sorts of different backgrounds.

Afterwards, we thought it would be a good idea to make a cartoon about Internet Safety – so that children, young people and foster carers can sit down together and watch the cartoon and can understand our Five Rivers policy and how to keep safe. If kids and foster carers watch the cartoon together they can agree on guidelines and understand the policy at the same time.

I read our ‘Safe Use of The Internet’ policy  – it was very long and we worked together to shorten it into Plain Simple English. Then we looked at the advice from the Growing Up Digital report and blended the two together.

A slide from our internet safety cartoon. Watch it here:
What’s it like to be a “Digital Native” young person in foster care then? Is it different to other people your age?

There are agreements and guidelines in place in my foster home and I have had to build trust to get these privileges – like access to an internet mobile phone and my Xbox in my room. I think that it is useful to have these agreements and restrictions in place.

I’d say kids who don’t live in care seem to get to spend more time on their phones and online than kids who live in care. Most kids in care like me have to hand in their phones at night.

Do you think adults understand how you use the internet?

I believe that adults think that the internet is bad, they have a bad image of the internet – that it’s dangerous and we aren’t looking up positive stuff.  It’s like the internet has a bad reputation in general, but for me, the internet really benefits my world.

It helps me revise, keep up to date with fashion, sports and all the new stuff. On an average week I play basketball after school for an hour, then I come home and I watch basketball stuff on YouTube. I learn about fitness workouts and stuff – so it really helps me with my sports, it helps me with aspirations to watch the big sporting stars. You learn from the professionals, they have channels and they teach you what they know.

I used to do BMX racing and I used a video app on my phone which analyses my movements and actions in slow-mo so I could watch back and see where I’m going wrong and how I can improve my actions. I get all my sports knowledge online – all the scores etc.

It teaches you about being a good person and tells you all sorts of things about the world you wouldn’t know otherwise.

You can communicate with people around the world playing games or you can facetime with relative. The internet has improved my relationship with my extended family in Scotland. I use Whatsapp, it’s free, I can send films, videos, pictures and make video calls. So that’s a big plus.

Is it important for young people in care to have access to the internet?

Yes – the use of the internet is essential now for everyone. Younger kids often know more stuff than me – so you must keep up to date. If you didn’t use it, you would be massively disadvantaged. You must keep up to date with it to stay in touch and get on in the world. Applying for jobs, university everything happens online now. You need to be able to find your way around it when you get a job and stuff.

Are there any downsides to the internet in general?

It can be useful, but it can also be negative.

You can get in trouble with the police Googling stuff you shouldn’t do –  making bombs, pornography etc. You can also be on social media too much and get a bit obsessed.

At my school I have seen the internet being used to research religious jokes that could offend people like Muslims. Young people use it for dating also pretend to be 18 on things like Tinder and stuff and that’s obviously dangerous.

On a scale of 1- 10, how useful is the internet?

I reckon 9.

On a scale of 1- 10 how dangerous is the internet – 10 being dangerous, 1 being not dangerous?

I reckon 3.

You said you are a digital native and that it’s easy for you to learn things. Is that always the case for young people?

No.  There would be groups of children that need more help to stay safe –  they might be disabled, or have mental health problems or be vulnerable in some sort of way. So there are definitely some children who need more help and we can’t treat everybody the same. I have heard about the #NotWithoutMe project and I think it’s good.

Thank you very much, Bill, for participating in building the digital resilience of children in care.

No problem. It’s a great idea to help people like this.

Supporting information and references

The Children’s Commissioner’s ‘Growing up Digital Report’ January 2017:
#NotWithoutMe project is funded by the Carnegie Trust to help organisations that work with vulnerable young people develop their digital skills and empower them to understand their rights and responsibilities on the internet. More information:
*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the young person

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