In a world where our children’s playground has gone virtual, parents and guardians can no longer claim ignorance or resistance to technology. We now all need to be aware of the potential risks and harm children might be exposed to online.

The online world can be a marvellous tool for one’s growth and personal exploration. It has created fantastic virtual platforms which one might never be able to live in person and has the capacity of enlightening other people’s way of life and existence. While it is a tool to be used, it is to be used with great care.

When using this digital world, one can also be exposed to extremely harmful activity that may be damaging to one’s psychological and emotional well-being. While minors are technologically savvy, their lack of understanding of the consequences or the exhilaration of risk-taking puts them in an extremely vulnerable position to peers who bully and from online predators who are on the hunt to use and abuse them to their liking.

There are always professionals who care

A four-member consortium came together to work on this European co-funded project called BeSmartOnline to fight these online risks. The Foundation for Social Welfare Services leads the project and works hand in hand with the Office of the Commissioner for Children, the Directorate for Learn­ing and Assessment Programmes at the Ministry for Education, and the Cybercrime Unit of the Malta Police Force to raise awareness relevant to the current trends and times we are living.

BeSmartOnline, in collaboration with Supportline 179, runs a helpline for minors and families who find themselves in difficulty when dealing with on­line dangers. Internet safety officers help minors with problems relating to one’s overexposure of their personal infor­­mation, cyberbullying, sexting and online predators who groom minors for sexual content.

No two cases are ever the same and internet safety officers handle each situation with care and with a personalised approach. The BeSmartOnline team believes in addressing each situation holistically.

Interventions to online challenges can take different forms, from one-to-one meetings with the minor, family or other professionals, to raising awareness in schools where the minors attend, when requested. From a technical point of view, some cases require minor involvement, such as taking down profiles, while others can be more complex.

Help from other professionals might be roped in to make sure the minor is always protected and given the right support. Regardless of what kind of intervention takes place, all cases are treated with utmost confidentiality.

No matter the situation, there are always professionals who care and wish to support you and provide you with the right information. There are many ways how one can reach out to us. One can call 179, send in a report through the www.besmartonline.org.mt website or send an e-mail directly to 179.appogg@gov.mt. You can also find us on Facebook @BeSmartOnline for news and updates related to the child internet safety.

We urge young people to use the internet wisely, respectfully and to always be smart online and we ask parents and guardians to be always aware of the ever-present risks that your children face as highlighted in this article.

Davinia Marie Muscat, Safer internet officer, Appoġġ

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