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Using peer education to encourage safe online behaviour
Atkinson S, Furnell SM, Phippen AD
EU Kids Online, London School of Economics (online proceedings), 2009
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Many existing approaches to promoting Internet awareness make use of the risk laden environment which can incite parents and carers to adopt an approach with excessive filtering and restrictive access. Whilst not wishing to minimise in any way the potential for harm, this paper presents research carried out at the University of Plymouth which considers education and empowerment as complementary strands to a toolkit of resources and strategies in promoting Internet awareness. The more inclusive approach has focussed on the empowerment of young people to promote Internet awareness among their peers.

Initial work with young people between the ages of 14 and 16 has allowed a good understanding of their attitudes towards online life as well as demonstrating the potential for the peer-led approach. Messages with a narrow focus on predation have captured the imagination of both parents and pupils alike, but this work has found potentially detrimental effects on e-safety education with adults and children disengaging as a result. Other areas, such as technologically mediated bullying along with problems surrounding basic Internet Security, are more likely to have a detrimental effect on young people’s lives, yet these do not receive as much of a focus in the shadow of the predation message.

Young people involved in the research project have demonstrated a clear awareness of the risks of certain types of online behaviour, however their choice of actions are shown to be in conflict with that awareness. To address this gap in understanding and action, peer ambassadors within each of the participating schools have developed their own approaches to address and challenge those actions and behaviours. This paper presents the key elements of the peer ambassadors research programme, outlining not only the variety of approaches adopted within each of the schools, but also the differences in perception amongst the young people involved.

Atkinson S, Furnell SM, Phippen AD