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Society

The Smile of the Child Presented ‘Staying Safe Online’ on Safe Internet Day

February 10, 2021

ATHENS – The Smile of the Child and the European Student Volunteer Network YouSmile, a children’s rights group, held the online event "Staying Safe Online" on February 9, which is designated as Safe Internet Day.

The Smile of the Child conducted an online experiment; one of the group’s employees impersonated a 16-year-old and joined a popular application among children and adolescents in Greece that enables video calls among random users. The shocking result of this test revealed how easy it is for a child or a teenager to fall victim through a violation of personal privacy. The application creates an environment wherein everyone gains online access to minors in absolute anonymity.

Xenia Kourtoglou, Founder and Managing Partner of Focus Bari, presented the main conclusions drawn from the research under the title: "The increased use of social media during lockdown intensifies the feeling of loneliness and leads to depression." Kourtoglou presented the findings concerning children aged 5 to 12 and young people aged 16 to 24.

Based on the research, in 2020, amid lockdown, and compared to 2019:

● Internet usage increased by 7% for children aged 5 to 12.

● 85% of children age 5-12 are internet users. The percentage rises to 94% for children age 10-12.

● The increase of Internet usage was larger for children age 5-6, reaching 10%.

● Smartphone is the most popular device for internet connectivity, followed by the tablet.

● Everyone is an internet user among individuals aged 16-24.

● Daily internet usage reaches 6 hours on average among users aged 16-24!

● Women aged 16-24 spend 145 minutes daily on average on Social Media, 38% of whom admit to getting depressed, while a 85% notice they get carried away and lose track of time.

● Men aged 16-24 spend on average 110.4 minutes daily on Social Media, 29% of whom admit to feeling depressed, 45% admit to getting carried away and losing track of time.

Τhe Deputy Minister of Education and Religious Affairs, Ms. Zetta Makri, addressed the event: "Today we are invited to celebrate the advantages of the reasonable use of the internet. At the same time this is clearly a chance to raise awareness and embark on some new initiatives towards safer internet usage. The risks from unrestricted internet usage by minors coexist with the creative opportunities offered by reasonable usage. Young people are investing their time in social media, substituting personal contact. They interact with strangers, without rules, boundaries or limitations. Social media fascinate young people, but it can also prove addictive. By listening to simple advice, young people can engage safely online. Moreover, children need to feel confident to speak up. Teachers, parents and the state must take action so that children and young people can develop safe online coping skills. The Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs has undertaken some new policies. Skill workshops, along with a number of topics related to safe internet usage, have been integrated in the mandatory school curriculum. Our goal is to empower children and enhance their skills so that they can navigate internet safely.”

The Head of the Cybercrime Unit of the Hellenic Police, Vassilis Papakostas, also participated. In the discussion he held with members of the Children's Rights Group of YouSmile, he said that, "The Hellenic Police and the Prosecution Office are at the disposal of every child and every parent to listen, provide advice and intervene in every incident to comfort and protect children."

Addressing parents, he noted that “the solution is not to forbid children from using the internet, but to develop a meaningful relationship of trust with them, so that they acquire all the necessary knowledge and skills, so that they become safe and informed digital citizens, getting to know their rights and obligations, as well as the risks involved. The highest risks, as identified by Europol's Annual Survey on Internet Security, include: internet fraud, illegal use of personal data and, unfortunately, child abuse content. Although there was no particularly large increase in Greece, an extremely worrying increase of incidents was identified at an international level.”

Costas Yannopoulos, President of The Smile of the Child stressed the significant benefits of technology and specifically the internet, but noted that the risks are great and children should be shielded with valuable knowledge so that they can protect themselves: "By experience, we receive numerous reports about children who had been at risk, children who fell victims of exploitation and blackmail, children who did not manage to manage and even committed suicide. Perverted adults are active online, giving advice to children on how to end their lives, how and where to get drugs, and so much more that may ruin a child's life. Hope is not lost. We have tools at our disposal to do better. The Smile of the Child is in constant cooperation with the E-Crime Prosecution Office, the best partner to manage such cases. At the same time, our National Helpline SOS 1056 is at the disposal of every child and every adult on a 24/7 basis, giving them the chance to share their concerns in a discreet way and receive help from professionals. No child should be left alone; even when mistaken, they should be listened to, they should be encouraged to share their experience, no matter how hard it may be.”

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