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“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).

Today is Safer Internet Day! The theme this year is “Together for a Better Internet”. The focus is on making our digital world safer for everyone, especially children and young people.

Online safety for children is a top priority for ChildFund Australia – not just today but every day. We’re working with young people, families and their communities globally to make sure they have the knowledge and skills to effectively navigate change and manage influences online. Our SwipeSafe Program is one of essential initiatives in this area. It was launched in 2017 with the aim of preventing the online abuse and exploitation of children. We also provide online safety training to young people so they can support their friends and other children in their community to protect themselves online.

We spoke to Amerng, 19, and Luly, 20, who have been ChildFund in Laos youth volunteers since 2021, to find out what online safety means to them and their communities. Like most digital-savvy young people, they use the Internet to speak with friends and family, study and for work. Of course, they also enjoy social media, watching YouTube and listening to music online. They shared with us the valuable lessons they have learnt through their online safety training, the risks children face while using the internet, and why everyone plays a role to play in creating a safer online environment.

Why they decided to become youth volunteers:

Amerng: I wanted to challenge myself, explore new opportunities, gain valuable experience for personal growth, and make a meaningful contribution to the development of children and young people.

Luly: I decided to become a volunteer because I wanted to learn new skills and make a difference in the world.  

What they have learnt about online safety, especially when it comes to sharing personal information:

Amerng: I have learned a lot about the importance of understanding the permanence of images or information that we share on the Internet. Once posted, content may remain accessible indefinitely, as it could be saved on a server potentially retrieved even if deleted.

Luly: Previously, I used to post on social media without considering the outcomes. However, after learning about online safety through ChildFund in Laos’ training program, I have become more cautious about sharing information online. I now understand that our online posts can have long-term consequences.

The pros and cons of the Internet for children and young people:

Amerng: The Internet has a big impact on children and young people as it has become an essential part of their lives, making things easier. It has become so important that society might find it harder to function without it! On the other hand, without the internet, people might talk to each other more, which would be good. But it could also be hard because we’re reliant on the internet for so many things.

Luly: So many children today are becoming addicted to social media, causing them to isolate themselves and avoid outdoor activities. Spending too much time on phones can lead to negative consequences in the future. It’s important to find a solution to prevent this. However, if we use the internet safely, it can lead to positive outcomes. This highlights the significance of education, as the internet offers a wealth of information and resources.  How can we trust the source of information? One way is to check if the website or organisation providing the information is credible. For example, the information from ChildFund is trusted because these organisations are considered reliable sources.

On the importance of learning online safety skills at a young age:

Amerng: It’s important for young people to have critical thinking and analysing online interaction skills to determine if the person they are interacting with is real and trustworthy. Having these skills would effectively protect everyone from potential scams and risks.

Luly: In this modern age of technology, we are closely connected to the Internet. Having the skills to use it safely will benefit us in our daily lives and work and help protect us from the potential dangers of the online world.

What they believe are the biggest dangers online:

Amerng: Children and young people using the Internet may be at risk of being exposed to inappropriate content such as pornography, emotionally and verbally violent media, and becoming excessively addicted to social media. This can prevent them from engaging in activities that are important for their development.

Luly: The internet presents various risks, including the spread of fake news, which was particularly problematic during the COVID-19 period. Many people became reliant on false information, impacting their daily lives. Also, the online world is full of scammers, making it more dangerous for users.

Why it takes a village to create a safe online environment for children and young people:

Amerng: Adults, particularly parents, need to closely monitor and limit children’s access to online media until they can discern appropriate content. Teachers should also educate students about safe internet usage, starting from the 4th or 5th grade, even if it’s not of the official curriculum.

Luly: The first is the parents. Parents can monitor their child’s Internet usage behaviour. If there is a risk of being addicted or being misled, they can teach and limit their child’s Internet use if necessary. Then the community or people who work with children can organise activities about the safe use of the Internet for children. If they have knowledge, they will be more careful.

The advice they would give children and young people when it comes to staying safe online:

Amerng: The internet has both pros and cons. It’s important to learn how to use it safely to protect our personal information from being leaked and to avoid falling victim to cybercrime or scams.

Luly: I would advise my friends to use critical thinking when using the internet. For example, if we come across news, let’s not believe it right away. We should take a moment to think and ask ourselves if it’s trustworthy. If it’s not, we can look for other sources to verify the information.

Celebrating Safer Internet Day in Laos
Local youths in Laos attend training sessions, supported by ChildFund, to learn about online safety and how to share their knowledge with friends and children in the community.

Here’s how to protect yourself and others this Safer Internet Day, and beyond!

Do a digital spring clean. Check to see if your apps and devices are secure by reviewing your privacy settings regularly. 

Balance your time online. How do you feel when you’re on your device? Too much time scrolling can negatively impact our mental and physical health and relationships with others, so it’s important to set boundaries to protect your wellbeing.

Take a moment to reflect on how you use the Internet. Do your actions online affect others or your safety? For instance, have you left negative comments on someone’s profile or received harmful content before?  

Do your research. With so many new apps and ways of sharing content it can be hard to know how platforms store and share information. Protect yourself and others by visiting trusted sites to find out how to stay safe online and report online abuse.

Spread the word. You can help raise awareness about the importance of online safety this Safer Internet Day at home, school, work or in your community. eSafety has a bunch of great resources to help get you started. You can share them with friends, family, colleagues through your social channels. If you’d prefer an old-school approach, and to connect in real life, why not host an event to promote Safer Internet Day in your community? The options are endless!

Find out more about our SwipeSafe Program and work in ChildFund in Laos.