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Young people in Laos are learning how to thrive online

“It’s hard to imagine my life without digital technology now. It has become an essential part of my daily routine, connecting me to the world and my friends.” – Pypo, 16

Growing up in a digital world means children today face new, constantly evolving challenges to their health and wellbeing. From cyberbullying, exposure to explicit content or grooming, identify theft, and too much screen time, there are an increasing number of risks for children and young people online.

In Laos, teens like Pypo, a 16-year-old student from Sayabouly Province, are learning to protect themselves online while developing life skills for a brighter and safer future. Pypo participated in the ChildFund-supported National Children’s Forum, an opportunity that provided him with the resources and space to think critically about how he spends his time online, learn digital and life skills, and vocalise issues affecting children and young people in his community.   

Across the three-day event, children and young people participate in activities and training sessions, discuss their digital habits and healthy internet usage, and are encouraged to share their new skills and knowledge with friends and their communities. For Pypo, participating in the forum – and learning more about online safety – was an easy decision.

“It’s hard to imagine my life without digital technology. It’s become an essential part of my day, just connecting me to my friends and the world,” he explained, adding that it was important to balance his time online and understand what safe internet usage looks like.

“During the pandemic, online classes kept me updated with schoolwork and I could continue learning at home. But there are negatives; digital media can mean widespread dissemination of fake news, causing harm to people and society. To use digital technology safely, I always verify the accuracy and reliability of news sources before sharing information. I do this by checking an article or blog’s credentials and reputation,” said Pypo.

Pypo takes the mic to share his thoughts and experiences about online safety at the National Children’s Forum in Laos.

Group discussions at the forum also focused on the role everyone plays in making our digital world safer. The availability of new technologies and a lack of digital skills and regulations means that children and young people are more vulnerable to potential harm online. To help protect children’s digital rights and safety, it’s important to have greater awareness and support from children’s families and their communities. They should have the knowledge and skills to support the health and wellbeing of children navigating their online environment, said Lunny, a 17-year-old student from Savannakhet Province who participated in the discussion group.

“Technology plays a vital role in our society, but some people misuse it. They might use social media to bully and criticise others, which can severely affect a person’s mental health and wellbeing,” he said.

“To address this problem, I believe that children should have resources on how to deal with cyberbullying and mental health. These resources could include hotlines, support groups, and counselling services. By doing so, we can create a positive online environment where people can connect and engage in healthy interactions without the fear of being bullied.”

“Technology plays a vital role in our society, but some people misuse it. They might use social media to bully and criticise others, which can severely affect a person’s mental health and wellbeing.”

Lunny, 17

Traditionally, children’s voices in Laos have not been given serious attention, particularly in the public sphere of decision-making. That’s what makes opportunities such as the National Children’s Forum, an annual event co-hosted by ChildFund in Laos and the National Commission for the Advancement of Women and Mothers-Children (NCAWMC), so unique. For young people like Pypo it can be a life-changing experience – a chance to learn more about advocacy, leadership skills, and how to build resiliency online and offline.

“Attending the Children’s Forum was important to me because I saw it as an opportunity to develop myself,” explained Pypo. “It inspired me to try new things and step out of my comfort zone. As a result, I have become more confident in sharing my opinions, even in front of large audiences.”

ChildFund acknowledges the support of the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).

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