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Digital Families 2017: What? Why? How?

Here's what happened at Digital Families 2017  for those who weren't able to make it, or want to catch up on the important events of the day. By Marjun Ziarati. View our GALLERY from the day here




‘We have over 4,000 schools subscribed to the Parent Info service’

Digital Families 2017 was held to celebrate the success of Parent Info the free news feed service which allows schools to run expert advice, to help parents cope with the challenges of the digital age, on their own websites. A partnership between Parent Zone and CEOP, the child protection command of the National Crime Agency, Parent Info now has over 4,000 schools subscribed to the service.

The internet has provided us with many opportunities, but also many challenges. This conference was a unique, and important, opportunity for professionals working with young people to listen to insightful presentations on the important issues that families are facing in a digital world, and benefit from the gathering of many experts in one place who were able to respond to significant questions in the field of internet safety. 

Professionals travelled from near and far to exchange experiences at this annual event, and our Twitter feed went wild on the day. It was great to see so much engagement from our followers, even those unable to attend were interacting with us online as the events of the day unfolded; We’re delighted with the fantastic feedback from many of those who attended the day. 

It’s not easy to sum up so much activity in one report. Indeed, we’re sure that many interesting conversations took place between our attendees over a cup of coffee, and (the rather tasty) lemon cheesecake, while everyone was milling around the conference centre. But, for those of you who were unable to make the event, or perhaps want to catch up on parts of the day you may have missed, here we go...

Vicki and Marie welcome the audience 

The day kicked off with a welcome speech from Parent Zone CEO, Vicki Shotbolt and CEOP, Head of Education, Marie Smith. They outlined the plan for the day and introduced the main theme underpinning the conference - Digital Resilience.  As an executive member of the board at the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS), Vicki introduced the working group’s definition:

The day was divided into different sections to discuss how we can collectively build a young person’s digital resilience.

Firstly, a look at the risks and harm in a digital era, then a delve deeper into the key findings of recent research into young people and the internet, and finally, after breakout sessions delivered by Parent Zone and CEOP, the final section of the day dealt with the responses - How can young people and families embrace the digital age safely?

As you can imagine, that’s a lot of valuable information to be discussed in one day. 

‘Most kids are all right online...’ 

Professor Sonia Livingstone, from the London School of Economics, raised some online risks and harm facing young people today. She said that ‘most kids are all right’ online, but that doesn’t mean they’re not concerned. Sonia concluded that the risk of harm is making young people more cautious online and figures show low percentages of actual incidents of harm taking place.

Sonia Livingstone, LSE

Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, Director of the National Problem Gambling Clinic, stated that the highest prevalence of gambling in the UK is among young people aged between 16-34, (if we exclude those playing the lottery). Online gambling among young people has increased by 7% since 2015. Henrietta said that a combination of genetic and environmental factors is involved when it comes to being an ‘at risk’ gambler or developing a gambling disorder.

An expectant crowd awaiting the speakers

Liam Hackett talked about founding anti-bullying charity, Ditch the Label, and the challenges of tackling cyberbullying. He discussed how young people can behave differently online – with 50% of those asked saying they felt more comfortable online and 27% more approachable online. Cyberbullying can occur due to these changes in ‘online persona’, and, it may seem easier to bully online with the internet also providing more channels for bullying to take place.

‘It may seem easier to bully online with the internet also providing more channels for bullying to take place’

Zoe Hilton, Head of Safeguarding at CEOP, highlighted some of the cases of online harm that CEOP deal with every day including sexting and inappropriate or unwanted contact. She also talked about some of the techniques that offenders are using to exploit young people online.  

John Carr, secretary of the UK Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety, chaired the panel consisting of the above speakers who engaged with the audience and discussed the risks the digital era can present.  

Later, Dr Victoria Nash, from the Oxford Internet Instiute (OII), discussed some of the research into young people and the internet. She said that as of yet, there isn’t evidence of significant harms resulting from the use of Internet-connected toys or smart devices, but there are many examples of lack of security in these devices.

Dr Elly Hanson, independent clinical psychologist, said that at least 59% of 11-16-year-old UK boys and 25% of girls have searched for porn intentionally and this is linked to peer pressure, life problems and sexual images on social media. She talked about the need for age-verification and ‘better conversations’ with young people about the impact porn can have on their understanding of sexual consent.

‘Research - separating the wheat from the chaff’

Professor Andy Przybylski, from the OII, talked about ‘separating the wheat from the chaff’ when it comes to research into young people and the internet. He stressed the importance of real evidence-based, pre-registered and open research plans. He also mentioned the Goldilocks Hypothesis - increasing doses of screen time are positively associated with wellbeing, up to a point, and then are associated with lower levels of wellbeing.

Liam Hackett from Ditch the Label  

David Miles, who leads the British Board of Film Classification's (BBFC) policy work chaired the discussion into key findings from research into young people and the internet.

After a lovely buffet lunch, attendees were free to roam around and dip into two breakout sessions. Dr Elly Hanson discussed CEOP’s Digital Romance project in one room and Parent Zone’s Deputy CEO, Sophie Linington was in another room talking about the launch of Parent Zone’s latest report, Parenting in the Digital Age. How are we doing?  You can read the full report here.

 Parent Zone's Sophie in the breakout session

‘Young people haven’t changed, they have always enjoyed engaging with peers, flirting and remain curious’

After a thought-provoking morning contemplating the risks online and the research findings, the final section of the day was dedicated to responses.

Jonathan Baggaley, from the PSHE Association, talked about the importance of equipping young people with the skills they need to manage their lives now and in the future. He talked about ‘risky play’ and how young people haven’t changed, they have always enjoyed engaging with peers, flirting and remain curious. They need to develop the skills to deal with any challenges they may encounter.

Jonathan Baggaley talking at Digital Families 17  

Becky Foreman revealed an interesting finding from Microsoft’s latest study: that teens around the world overwhelmingly view parents as the most trusted and most responsible group for keeping children and teens safe online.

Chris Martin talked about youth charity ‘The Mix’ and how the internet can offer support to young people. He said The Mix’s vision is that ‘every young person should be able to make informed choices about their physical and mental wellbeing to ensure they live better lives.’

Jane Lees, Chair of the Sex Education Forum, addressed the audience of many teachers about the importance of teaching Sex and Relationship Education (SRE), opening the dialogue with young people and how schools can prepare for teaching it when it becomes statutory.  

Helen Keevil, Assistant Head in charge of pupil welfare at, Parent Zone Digital School of the Year winners, Epsom College, discussed how she embraces the internet and technology to plan and deliver inspiring lessons to young people, with a focus on the advantages of living in a digital world.

‘Every child has the right to access the digital world with knowledge’

Last, but certainly not least, in her closing speech, Baroness Beeban Kidron, crossbench member of the House of Lords, inspired the crowd with her passionate views on digital resilience. ‘Every child has the right to access the digital world with knowledge,' she stated as she urged all attendees to do their utmost to contact their local MPs and raise any issues they may have about young people’s online safety.  Beeban called this ‘our shared responsibility’.

It was a great end to a fantastic day. Thanks to everyone for coming. See you at our next event!


*To discuss the issues raised at the conference and to receive regularly updated expert resources on issues relating to families and the online world, become a Parent Zone member.