copy the linklink copied!Chapter 12. Empowering an active and ethical (digital) generation

Empowering an active and ethical (digital) generation is a key policy goal for education ministries across the OECD. This chapter explores the subject of digital citizenship in all of its complexity, including the competencies to actively, responsibly and positively engage in online and offline communities. When online, even the most skilled digital citizens are likely to encounter cyber risks such as cyberbullying, sexting and revenge porn, as well as threats to their security and privacy. As well as victims, children can be the perpetrators themselves of these online misdemeanours. The anonymity and invisibility that the Internet provides can prompt children to act differently online than they might offline. This underscores the need for education systems to promote ethical online behaviour. This chapter explores how countries deal with digital risks through policies aimed at protection and promoting resilience, and highlights how they encourage active, ethical and empowered use of digital tools.


copy the linklink copied!Developing digital citizenship

In education systems around the world, an increasing emphasis has been placed on digital citizenship. Interest in academic and policy spheres has resulted in a number of different definitions, but in a broad sense digital citizenship can be conceptualised as norms of behaviour regarding the use of digital technologies (Ribble, Bailey and Ross, 2004[1]). It requires both educational and technological competence, as well as access to technology (Mossberger, Tolbert and McNeal, 2008[2]).

In addition, digital citizens possess the competences to actively, responsibly and positively engage in online and offline communities (Council of Europe, 2019[3]). Some scholars argue for inclusion of online civic engagement in the digital literacy definition (Jones and Mitchell, 2016[4]), alongside respectful and tolerant behaviour towards others (UNICEF, 2017[5]).

In the 21st Century Children Policy Questionnaire, 13 systems out of the 24 that responded to this section identified developing digital citizenship as a pressing challenge in their context (see Chapter 2). This online challenge was often mentioned as having offline implications – responses highlighted that digital citizenship can contribute positively to personal development and to society as a whole, and that this can be developed in tandem with skills/knowledge pertaining to moral and civic education more generally.

The main themes that emerged from this section of the Policy Questionnaire were:

  • the need to be responsible and respectful online

  • the importance of offline implications (i.e. negative or maladaptive behaviours in online spaces can affect offline behaviour patterns as well)

  • safety concerns – recognising harmful/threatening behaviour, exposure to non-ethical Internet usage

  • media literacy.

This chapter looks at policies and practices to strengthen and build digital citizenship, as well as some of the risks and conduct issues that arise with Internet use. These include cyberbullying, revenge porn and sexting, and security and protection of data. The chapter ends with a look at building resilience and the ethical dimension of the digital world.

Policies and practices for building digital citizenship

Digital citizenship encompasses different facets. Firstly, it requires competent and positive engagement with digital technologies, thereby allowing children to create content, socialise, use digital tools to play, communicate and learn, and to work and share. It also requires active and responsible participation, the continuous defending of human dignity and also entails lifelong learning in formal, non-formal and informal contexts (Council of Europe, 2019[3]).

A set of essential digital skills are required in order to access digital resources and platforms, as well as an understanding of how to apply critical thinking in digital spaces and being able to interpret, understand and express oneself through digital means. Countries use curricular reform, development of independent bodies and teacher training programmes to develop and strengthen the digital citizenship of their students. Table 12.1 below outlines some of the approaches countries take to build digital citizenship.

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Table 12.1. Targeting digital citizenship





Incorporation of digital and media literacy in the curriculum, either as an independent unit or class, incorporated into existing classes (i.e. language, mathematics, etc.) or a combination of both.

Media and information education in France (2016); Teaching of ICT and informatics in the Greek curriculum; Media literacy and internet security included in content areas across curriculum in Latvia (2020); Values and principles established in the core curriculum in Norway, with new subject specific curriculum in 2020

Teacher training

Teachers in many contexts are trained in digital literacy, and how to foster digital literacy and citizenship in their students. Training is often supported or offered by different groups, through multi-group partnerships.

Media coach training for teachers and educators in the Flemish Community of Belgium involving nine training sessions, an online course, and an “internship project” where participants conduct a project in their working environment

Independent bodies, online platforms and information campaigns

Some systems have established groups or bodies in that target children’s safe and responsible use of digital media. Campaigns tend to target teachers and parents, providing information or online resources to enhance digital skills, online knowledge and digital citizenship. These can involve partnerships.

Media Council for Children and Young People in Denmark informs and advises on children’s use of digital media (e.g. provides movie ratings, informational articles for parents and educators); The Jeunes et Medias platform established in Switzerland with information on topics ranging from “fake news” to “happy slapping” and safety and data protection; “Superheroes on the Internet” in Latvia


Some partnerships are established to disseminate or develop informational tools or resources, while others are developed between interest groups and education systems to share knowledge and best practices, or help with implementation of digital citizenship programmes.

“Superheroes on the Internet” partnership between State Police and Net-Safe Latvia is a social campaign for media literacy and online child safety; Media coach training in the Flemish Community of Belgium is implemented by Mediawijs in collaboration with other groups, including funding from The Ministries for Media and for Education and Training as well as the European Commission

Source: 21st Century Children Policy Questionnaire

A number of education systems have embedded the teaching of digital skills (see Chapter 11), as well as information and media literacy programmes in their strategies to target digital citizenship. These approaches either involve development of a new curriculum, or integration of digital media and skills training into the existing curriculum either as an independent unit of study or through already existing courses, or a mix of both approaches. Some systems address digital citizenship education more explicitly, such as in Saskatchewan (Canada) with Digital Citizenship Education in Saskatchewan Schools, which spans kindergarten to Grade 12 (the last year of high school).

Focus on teaching

Approaches targeting digital citizenship are most effective if they include a component that works to build the digital skills of teachers themselves (Choi, Cristol and Gimbert, 2018[7]). However, explicit training in many of these areas is not always widely available to teachers, as shown in Figure 12.1.

While over half of the 24 systems that responded to this question in the Policy Questionnaire reported that educating students in digital citizenship and digital literacy was either required or widely available, an almost equal number reported that these topics were only covered in some programmes or not widely available. Even more strikingly, despite the policy attention paid to cyber risks, educating students in online risks was the least commonly required element included in initial and continuing professional development of teachers. These findings align with the results from the TALIS survey, in which teachers have consistently reported a high need for professional development in the use of ICT for teaching over the last 10 years (OECD, 2019[8]).

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Figure 12.1. Digital skills in teacher education (initial and continuous)
Figure 12.1. Digital skills in teacher education (initial and continuous)

Note: Responses indicate the proportion of systems that confirmed the topics were covered in existing teacher education in their systems. 24 countries and systems responded to this question.

Source: 21st Century Children Policy Questionnaire

The importance of multi-stakeholder involvement in building digital citizenship

The most effective strategies to promote digital citizenship and are those that involve a multi-stakeholder, multi-sectoral approach, including engagement from parents and children themselves (Byrne et al., 2016[9]), see also Chapter 13).

However, empowering parents to guide their children online requires them to have the necessary digital skills to do this effectively. This is challenging on two levels. First, research has demonstrated that on average, parents tend to have higher digital literacy skills than their children until they reach around 12 years of age. After a short period of similar skill level, on average children have surpassed their parents by the age of 15. This systematically results in parents not necessarily being able to appropriately guide their older children in their online experiences (Byrne et al., 2016[9]).

Second, not all children are able to turn to their parents. Children from disadvantaged homes are more likely to have parents with lower digital skills, and those parents are less likely to be involved in their schooling. Conflicts with work schedules, childcare needs, transportation problems, lack of familiarity with the institution and not speaking the same language as the teacher are just some of the participation barriers faced by parents (OECD, 2017[10]). This makes the involvement of schools and the broader community even more important for building digital citizenship and digital skills more generally.

One interesting example of an initiative involving both the broader community and technology experts comes from Google. ‘Creators for Change’ is a global programme consisting of fifty ambassadors with the responsibility to reach adolescents aged 13-15 years old and educate them about digital citizenship. Google also seeks to reach children coming from disadvantaged backgrounds by creating a curriculum similar to the ‘Creators for Change’ programme as well as by partnering with other businesses and organisations that seek to enhance the digital skills of disadvantaged youth. Recognising that poor digital literacy skills of parents can also have a negative effect on child digital literacy, the programme also pays particular attention to parental engagement.

copy the linklink copied!Active and empowered use comes with risks

Some of the key components of digital citizenship include active, positive and responsible online engagement. However, with active online use comes a number of cyber risks (see Chapters 2 and 10), and some research suggests that higher information literacy and digital skill, coupled with high usage, makes children more likely to encounter online risks (Livingstone and Helsper, 2010[11]; Park, Na and Kim, 2014[12]). These risks can stand as barriers to active, effective and engaged online participation for many children, and they are also sources of considerable worry among parents and policy makers alike. The following sections highlight selected risks and the policy responses education systems use to overcome these challenges.


Cyberbullying has been defined as the aggressive targeting of a victim through digital technologies by peers (Levy et al., 2012[13]), although this definition is not always agreed upon. While it shares many similarities with traditional face-to-face bullying, the potential anonymity of online spaces, as well as the potential to reach victims despite lack of physical proximity, are important differences from traditional bullying (Kowalski et al., 2014[14]; Livingstone, Stoilova and Kelly, 2016[15]). Levels of digital literacy can affect both perpetrators and victims. For example, a greater level of digital literacy for a cyberbully may help create the power imbalance which is inherent in many forms of bullying (Görzig and Machackova, 2015[16]).

Although high on policy agendas, it is not that clear that rates of cyberbullying are increasing, despite perceptions of rising risk of harm (Livingstone, Stoilova and Kelly, 2016[15]). The latest UNESCO report on bullying around the world (including cyberbullying) suggests that levels of bullying are decreasing (UNESCO, 2019[17]). Certainly the rates of cyberbullying are lower than many people believe – on average across countries in 2014, about 12% of children reported that they had been cyberbullied (Livingstone et al., 2014[18]). However, up-to-date and comparable data in this field is currently lacking.

It is important to note that bullying and cyberbullying are understood and defined differently in different countries. In some, emphasis is placed on harassment, social exclusion or social status, while in others it might also include incidents that happen within the school context (Livingstone, Stoilova and Kelly, 2016[15]). The Digital Child Protection Strategy of Hungary, for example, takes a very broad definition of cyberbullying, including behaviours such as denigration, exclusion, sexting, cyberstalking, “outing” (i.e. unauthorised sharing of secrets or personal information with others) and “flaming” (i.e. using furious or obscene language in online arguments, or posting offensive, often irrelevant comments about someone in a public forum).

In the 21st Century Children Policy Questionnaire, 20 systems identified cyberbullying as a challenge in their context, while 15 identified it as one of the most pressing challenges (see Chapter 2). Countries and systems reported concern about the prevalence of cyberbullying, how newsworthy it is and that it affects and is affected by factors such as gender, emotional well-being/mental health, suicide and digital citizenship more broadly.

Cyberbullying is a particularly difficult issue for education systems to address, in part due to the ubiquity of digital technology and also because it often takes place outside of school. Cyberbullying usually does not occur in isolation and is often linked to offline bullying (Waasdorp and Bradshaw, 2015[19]; Baldry, Farrington and Sorrentino, 2015[20]).

Systems can have difficulty finding effective solutions, schools might be disorganised regarding implementation of these solutions, and online victimisation can be anonymous, all of which can be obstacles in dealing with cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is also a challenge that encompasses other issues such as revenge porn and sexting.

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Box 12.1. Online bullying, offline implications

Cyberbullying can have far-reaching consequences, including depression (Brunstein Klomek et al., 2007[21]; Bauman, Toomey and Walker, 2013[22]; Van Geel, Vedder and Tanilon, 2014[23]), stress (Kowalski et al., 2014[14]), anxiety and sleep disorders (Swearer and Hymel, 2015[24]). It can also affect academic performance: across OECD countries, low performers in PISA tend to report greater exposure to bullying (OECD, 2017[10]).While cyberbullying might not be occurring at “epidemic” levels, children who experienced bullying on- or offline are more likely to have suicidal thoughts or attempt suicide than those who did not have these experiences (Hinduja and Patchin, 2010[25]).

High profile cases have spurred policy development in a number of different countries. In Australia, for example, the 2018 suicide of Amy “Dolly” Everett prompted the Council of Australian Governments to form a working group of senior officials across different levels and sectors of government (e.g. Education and Justice), focused on recommending actions to target (cyber)bullying. In the French Speaking Community of Belgium, a 16-year-old suicide victim, Louise, is at the centre of a cyberbullying awareness campaign. In Canada, the suicide of Rehtaeh Parsons in Nova Scotia in 2013 prompted provincial and national level inquiries. In another report from Saskatchewan an overwhelming number of youth cited cyberbullying or bullying on social media or over texting as a contributing factor to youth taking their lives (Saskatchewan Advocate for Children and Youth, 2017[26]).

However, the best way to combat cyberbullying is not always clear. Sabella, Patchin and Hinduja (2013[27]) suggest a list of “myths” regarding cyberbullying. They include:

  • Everyone knows what cyberbullying is.

  • Cyberbullying is occurring at epidemic levels.

  • Cyberbullying causes suicide.

  • Cyberbullying occurs more often now than traditional bullying.

  • Like traditional bullying, cyberbullying is a rite of passage.

  • Cyberbullies are outcasts or just mean kids.

  • To stop cyberbullying, just turn off your computer or cell phone.

The ubiquity of technology and the opportunities it offers make it both unrealistic and counter-productive to suggest turning off or banning devices. Therefore, approaches should focus on enhancing digital citizenship, dealing with aggression, traditional bullying and violence in the school, and coordinating mental health and suicide prevention programmes to help support all students, especially the most vulnerable.

Policies and practices for cyberbullying

There are a number of anti-bullying policies and initiatives in place across the countries and systems that responded to the Policy Questionnaire. Some of these initiatives specifically target cyberbullying, others include it as a component of a more general anti-bullying framework, whereas still others refer more broadly to bullying as an umbrella term.

Information campaigns and teacher training are important steps in tackling cyberbullying for children. When adults understand online safety and are capable users of digital technologies, they also tend to be more successful in guiding children’s digital use. Therefore, a crucial step in ensuring online safety for children is to disseminate information and train teachers and parents on online safety, and give advice on how to help children manage online risks (Livingstone, Davidson and Bryce, 2017[28]). Furthermore, adopting whole-school approaches in resolving online issues can help members of the broader educational community protect and support students online, and coherent policies addressing cyberbullying and traditional bullying are essential (Hooft Graafland, 2018[29]).

One of the biggest challenges is measuring the effectiveness of cyberbullying campaigns or policies. Firstly, without a clear, agreed upon definition, it is difficult to understand what to measure and how to do so, as methodologies also tend to differ across surveys (Volk, Veenstra and Espelage, 2017[30]). This hampers the comparability of research findings in the field. In addition, on a national or subnational level, many systems have limited available data (see Chapter 10). Those that do collect data on cyberbullying, such as the National Statistics Bureau in Netherlands, do not necessarily look at the effectiveness of specific measures. Some systems, such as Ireland have a more formalised evaluation process whereby the Department of Education and Skills inspectorate checks school compliance to the action plan, however many programmes lack effective evaluation measures.

Sexting and revenge porn

Sexting involves the “creating, sharing and forwarding of sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude images” by individuals (Lenhart, 2009[31]). Revenge porn refers to posting nude images of non-consenting individuals online (Stroud, 2014[32]).

16 countries and systems who responded to the Policy Questionnaire identified sexting as a challenge in their context and three identified this as a pressing challenge (Latvia, Netherlands and Portugal). Sharing sexually explicit images or videos can be illegal, especially if the subject is underage. It can also lead to sextortion (i.e. threatening to publicly publish images if the subject does not pay a bribe, see Chapter 10).

Sexting is not uncommon, despite the fact that adolescents report understanding that their sexually explicit photos can be used later for coercion or blackmail (Van Ouytsel et al., 2016[33]). However, it is difficult to accurately estimate its prevalence: studies from the United States using nationally representative samples of teens vary in estimates from 2.5% to 24%. Indeed, across studies, sexting can be measured in very different ways, making any kind of cross-study or national comparison difficult (Kosenko, Luurs and Binder, 2017[34]). Some research suggests girls are more likely to feel pressured into sending sexts and tend to report more negative sexting experiences than boys (Burén and Lunde, 2018[35]), and this might be done out of fear that they could lose their romantic partner (Van Ouytsel et al., 2016[33]). On the contrary, other results suggest that girls are less inclined to engage in sexting (Walrave et al., 2015[36]).

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Table 12.2. Targeting cyberbullying: Country policies and practices



Information campaigns/resources

Australia: The Student Well-being Hub is a website that has information for students, parents and educators on topics including bullying.

Belgium (French Speaking Community): prevention and information campaigns are organised in partnership with the police, NGOs and child-focused associations. Information is targeted at students (i.e. the triptych “Harcèlement à l’école : à qui en parler ?)” and there is a brochure for parents about what they can do if their children are bullied at school. Another campaign, at the initiative of the Federal Police, targets cyberbullying through giving the example of Louise, a 16-year-old who committed suicide and was a victim of severe cyberbullying.

France: “Non au Harcèlement” is an initiative with an information campaign and website fighting against all forms of bullying, with special emphasis on cyberbullying. There is also a national day in France dedicated to awareness of bullying.

Greece: In Greece, there is a thematic week dedicated to bullying and cyberbullying awareness, which includes the implementation of awareness-raising activities in schools. This has been incorporated into the Internet Safety Plan.

Ireland: Webwise is the Irish Internet Safety Awareness Centre (co-funded by the Department of Education and Skills and the EU’s Connecting Europe Facility). It develops and disseminates resources to help teachers integrate Internet safety into their teaching, and provides information to parents. The Webwise Youth Advisory Panel helped develop youth-oriented awareness resources and campaigns on topics like cyberbullying.

Child-centred support outside of the school, reporting mechanisms

Australia: The office of the eSafety Commissioner (an independent office created by the Enhancing Online Safety for Children Act) operates a reporting scheme to deal with serious cyberbullying, and also for illegal online content and image-based abuse.

Belgium (French Speaking Community): Separate toll-free numbers exist for both teachers and parents who are dealing their students/children experiencing bullying or violence. The line for parents can also offer support on procedures regarding psychological, social, legal or administrative processes.

France: Net Ecoute is a free, anonymous and confidential phone number children can call to talk about cyberbullying and harassment. It gets about 5 000 calls per year, and can direct calls to other numbers such as emergency services.

Latvia: Children can phone a helpline to get support for cyberbullying, as well as topics such as loneliness at school and abuse in the home.

National/subnational policy approach

Australia: The Australian School Wellbeing Framework supports schools to build inclusive and positive environments, through promoting visible leadership, family partnerships and positive behaviours.

Saskatchewan (Canada): The Saskatchewan Action Plan to Address Bullying and Cyberbullying was released in November 2013. Following this release, Digital Citizenship Education in Saskatchewan Schools was created, as the promotion of this competence is seen as a key area in addressing cyberbullying.

Ireland: The 2013 Action Plan on Bullying includes cyberbullying as an explicit form of bullying. Anti-Bullying Procedures for Primary and Post-Primary Schools were subsequently developed, and are mandatory procedures for all schools; they give direction and guidance to schools in preventing and tackling school-based bullying.

Netherlands: Schools are required by law to have a safety plan, which indicates at least one person to whom parents and children can report cases of (cyber)bullying, and coordinates the policies at the school. Education councils can help schools develop their policies.

Scotland (United Kingdom): Respect for All is Scotland’s national approach to anti-bullying for children and young people. It is expected that local authorities and organisations develop their own anti-bullying policies based on Respect for All. It also provides e-safety self-review tool, and training opportunities to help develop and implement local policies. It operates under the notion that online and face-to-face bullying should be treated the same.

Teacher support

Belgium (French Speaking Community): In 2015, the Technologies de l”Information et de la Communication pour l’Enseignement (TICE) project drafted a file on “Conquering Social Networks” containing tools for teachers to help address online behaviours and attitudes including cyberbullying. It offers teachers examples of good practice, as well as resources and tools to use in class. The Higher Council for Media Education also produced pedagogical dossiers for teachers on how to prevent cyberbullying through promoting media literacy.

Russian Federation: One of the strategies to target cyberbullying is to prepare teachers, as well as psychologists, to identify cases of cyberbullying.

Source: 21st Century Children Policy Questionnaire

As highlighted in Chapter 10, sexism and gender stereotyping appear to play a significant role in the ‘culture of sharing’. There is also potentially a ‘moral blind spot’ around sexting compared to other behaviours. In one Canadian study, a large number of young people used moral disengagement mechanisms to justify non-consensual sharing of intimate images. These mechanisms included i) justifying an action (e.g. ‘sharing a sext of a girl raises the awareness of other girls’), ii) shifting responsibility (e.g. ‘one does not have the power to stop the sharing of sexts’), iii) blaming the victim (e.g. ‘sharing of a sext is the fault of the girl who originally sent it’) and iv) denying the harm (e.g. ‘sharing sexts is so common, nobody cares about it’) (Johnson et al., 2018, pp. 12-13[37])..

Only 12 countries identified revenge porn as a challenge in their national context, with one (Netherlands) identifying it as one of their most pressing challenges. Many countries in recent years have taken note of revenge porn and have been working hard to legislate against it and to protect victims. From 2013-2016, the number of OECD and BRICS countries that enacted national laws on revenge porn increased from 1 to 16 (OECD, 2016[38]), and more have done so since then.

Policies and practices addressing sexting and revenge porn

Addressing sexting and revenge porn is multifaceted, in part due to legal but also emotional ramifications. Launching legal investigations or police interventions can present additional challenges for schools, especially if the violation took place outside of school. Some approaches countries have taken are summarised in Table 12.3. While there is little research on the ramifications on emotional well-being of revenge porn, early research in the field suggests revenge porn survivors are prone to facing a number of mental health concerns such as anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts (Bates, 2016[39]). This highlights the need for robust policy actions to protect individuals, especially minors, from revenge porn.

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Table 12.3. Initiatives addressing sexting and revenge porn

Initiative type


Legal avenues

Latvia: young people face criminal liability when sharing explicit pictures of underage peers, according to child pornography legislation. This covers sexting and revenge porn.

Canada, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and 24 states in the United States: these systems all have specific laws to address revenge porn. In the United Kingdom, Scotland has no law but launched a consultation on the matter (OECD, 2016).

Teacher training

Portugal: In collaboration with security forces and the sexuality team of the National Strategy for Citizenship Education, the Ministry of Education provides teacher training as one pillar of a programme promoting awareness of sexting.

Informational resources and campaigns

Portugal: dissemination and promotion of information about sexting through debates and creation of educational materials is another pillar of Portugal’s initiative to address sexting.

Latvia: school visits are organised to present informational resources and campaign materials informing students, parents and teachers of the dangers of sexting. Online tools and resources are also available, as well as online and phone helplines

Source: 21st Century Children Policy Questionnaire and OECD (2016[38])

Security and privacy

By virtue of being online, people leave trails of personal data and sensitive and confidential data can be stored on servers around the world. With the rise of data breaches over the past fifteen years (OECD, 2019[40]) cyber-security is at the forefront of many online discussions. Phishing for personal information, surveillance, industrial-scale data processing and behavioural advertising based on personal information online are all risks children face when they go online.

One of the biggest challenges in working to secure and protect children’s data is whether or not they understand the consequences for their own privacy. Unsurprisingly, their ability to do this depends on age and maturity, as well as their digital literacy skills. Recent work from Livingstone and Stoilova (2018[41]) has revealed that children aged 5-7 already have a sense of privacy rules, although they struggle to comprehend the consequences of their actions. By 8-11, privacy management is governed more by rules than internalised behaviours. By 12-17 years, children and youth are aware of privacy risks and they assess opportunities and risks, but tend to focus on short-term benefits when making a decision.

A number of systems recognise issues of security and privacy as pressing in their national or regional contexts and countries are increasingly working to address these issues legislatively (see Chapter 10). Of the countries and systems responding to the 21st Century Children Policy Questionnaire, 17 identified online security and privacy to be a challenge in their context; five systems identified this as one of the most pressing challenges (Denmark, Flemish Community of Belgium, France, Norway and Scotland).

In some countries this is a priority due to the recent implementation of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) initiative (see Box 12.2).

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Box 12.2. GDPR

The European Union (EU) Charter of Fundamental Rights stipulates the right EU citizens have to the protection of their personal data (European Union, 2012[42]). Accordingly, in 2016 the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force for all EU member states in order to overcome the fragmentation across countries and to clarify rights and rules in the digital age regarding personal data. All EU countries are subject to the GDPR legislation. However, a number of EU countries adopt national legislation or implement policies that go further than GDPR.

The GDPR cover all individuals within the EU and EEA as well as the export of their personal data outside of these areas. One single set of rules applies to all EU member states and EEA states, and requires consent of personal data processing unless there is an existing legal basis to do so.

The GDPR includes tenets such as the “right to erasure” (previously the “right to be forgotten”). In addition, each data subject has legal obligations to notify data breaches to supervisory authority, a right of access (i.e. citizens have rights to access personal data as well as information on how these data are being processed), and the pseudonymisation (not anonymisation) when storing personal data.

The extraterritorial applicability of the regulation means it applies to all companies processing personal data of data subjects residing in the EU or EEA, regardless of where the company is physically based. Breaching GDPR comes with a large financial cost; up to 4% of annual global turnover or EUR 20 000 (whichever is greater) is the maximum fine that can be imposed on the most serious infringements of the regulation.

Policies and practices

It is not always easy to translate security policy at the operational level in education. Some systems take a national approach to data protection, whereas others take a decentralised approach and leave policies and implementation up to the jurisdiction of regional or local authorities, sometimes even down to the level of individual schools. Table 12.4 provides an overview of country initiatives to protect student data and privacy.

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Table 12.4. Initiatives addressing security, privacy and student data protection


Safe log-ins and single sign on

Greece: The Greek School Network implemented a central user authentication service, with single sign on for all integrated applications and authorised services for all primary and secondary schools. It connects over 15 000 schools to the Internet.

Norway: The Feide programme affords a safe login through a simplified system and single registration that is authenticated by home organisations. Students register for a single set of credentials that is used across all Feide-enables services, and the flow of personal information is limited.

Switzerland: FIDES project is under development, to create a “single digital identity”, similar to Norway.

Information & school-based guidelines

Belgium (Flemish Community): Mediawijs has a dedicated portal to data protection issues, with resources, guidelines, information and tools for schools. Security assessments are also available.

Ireland: Brochures provide guidance on how schools can take a whole-school policy in terms of data protection, and there is a Data Protection Schools service that gives schools advice and outlines the responsibilities of data controllers.

Latvia: the State Data Inspectorate has issued guidelines on online awareness with a specific section for privacy, including stipulations about data protection and the duties of the school (i.e. not storing excessive data, processing can only be done for specific purposes and never for commercial or political reasons). The Safer Internet Centre provides information on security and privacy, as well as carrying out surveys of parents and children regarding their ICT use and ability to avoid dangerous online situations.

Luxembourg: the Bee Secure initiative outlines rights according to GDPR and provides a forum and instructions on how individuals can lodge complaints or take legal actions

Scotland (United Kingdom): Child protection committees will be used to explore how child Internet safety can be coordinated through increased awareness of information and support and training

(sub)National laws/policies

France: In June of 2018 a French law was instituted focusing on protection of student data. The responsibilities of the délégués à la protection des données (DPD; data protection delegates) include respecting the legal frameworks around personal data and informing/advising responsible persons on the management of data, including heads of schools and academic directors of different educational services.

Quebec (Canada): protection of students’ personal information is governed by the Protection of Personal Information at School policy, which sets out responsibilities of school staff, and basic principles that schools should use as a guide to implement measures that comply with local laws.

Nova Scotia (Canada): student data are protected by the Privacy of Student Information Policy, which obliges institutions to uphold principles of privacy, good custodianship, and accountability when collecting, using and disclosing information. School boards are also required to have privacy breach protocols.

Turkey: student data are saved and protected on servers at the Ministry of Education

United States: federal laws protect the privacy of student educational records (FERPA).

Integrated approaches

Hungary: The Digital Child Protection Strategy focuses on three pillars: awareness raising and media education, protection and safety, and applying sanctions and providing help. Actors such as NGOs, businesses, the media and other government organisations are integral in ensuring awareness raising.

Scotland (United Kingdom): Internet safety action plans are implemented by different stakeholders, but centrally monitored by government. Actors include parents and carers and third sector organisations such as Police Scotland, the National Health Service, and Education Scotland.

Source: 21st Century Children Policy Questionnaire; Hungary’s Digital Child Protection Strategy

Ensuring the effective protection of student data will require data security and privacy training for people managing education information systems. This is because individual users are more likely to be the weakest links of the chain in data protection than the technical systems themselves (Jardine, 2015[43]). In addition, no matter the policy, it is important that while protecting children online, their independence and autonomy must also be respected (UNICEF, 2017[5]).

copy the linklink copied!Building digital resilience

It is important to identify which children are more vulnerable to digital risks in order to help build resilience. Risk factors include (1) personality factors such as sensation-seeking, low self-esteem and psychological difficulties, (2) social factors such as the lack of parental support and peer norms, and (3) digital factors such as specific online practices, online sites and skills (Livingstone et al., 2014[18]; Anderson, Steen and Stavropoulos, 2017[44]).

At home, many parents use rules, time limits and bans on particular activities or content. These restrictive strategies are associated with fewer risks, but come at the cost of digital opportunities. Parents who are more confident in their own or their children’s digital skills take a less restrictive approach. By encouraging digital activity and sharing it with children, such parents create a safer environment without hindering children’s agency and learning, helping them better manage risk and learn when things go wrong (Livingstone, Davidson and Bryce, 2017[28]). This suggests that interventions targeting the skills of both parents and children can increase children’s resilience and expand their opportunities.

Schools can contribute to students’ risk resilience in a number of ways (OECD, 2018[45]), including training for teachers on digital risks and their implications, fostering a zero-tolerance culture to behaviours such as cyberbullying and introducing online ethics and safety learning opportunities into the curriculum, offering spaces for adult and peer mentoring so that students can discuss practical implications of digital engagement and improve their levels of empathy and self-control (Harrison-Evans and Krasodomski-Jones, 2017[46]; Hutson, Kelly and Militello, 2017[47]; Döring, 2014[48]). In addition to school level policy, there are also a number of broader initiatives that are available to help protect children and build their resilience to online risks (see Box 12.3).

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Box 12.3. eSafety initiatives in Europe

The eSafety Kit is available in Austria, the French and Flemish communities of Belgium, Czech Republic, Ireland, Greece, Hungary, Netherlands, Poland, Romania and Spain. This interactive portal provides children with eSafety tips such as taking breaks and protecting posture, keeping email addresses and personal information safe, thinking before posting and ignoring cyberbullies. It shares links and phone numbers to national and international websites/hotlines and sites that publish where children can legally download things such as music. Each national eSafety kit also has a resource section for teachers and parents. For example, in the teacher space there are downloadable quizzes that can be administered to students aged 6-12 on topics such as cyberbullying and “smart surfing”, as well as a quiz on chat acronyms such as “ilu” (I love U). The parent section has a guide to keeping kids safe online, and a family fun booklet filled with activities.

Better Internet for Kids (BIK) is a service platform developed and maintained by the European Schoolnet on behalf of the European Commission. Besides providing information and materials to the public, it also provides a safe and closed space for youth to meet with youth coordinators from their national Safer Internet Centre to share ideas, discuss and debate. The BIK platform provides information about hotlines to anonymously report dangerous or illegal online material (i.e. child sexual abuse material), and Safer Internet Day, which raises awareness of emerging online issues as well as contact details for national helplines.

copy the linklink copied!Respecting others and netiquette

Children participate in many different online spaces, ranging from social media to forums and multiplayer games. Many children create profiles on sites such as Instagram and Facebook using their real names and photos, which is sometimes even required by the platform. However, sites such as Reddit and YouTube, and gaming sites such as Fortnite, allow users to engage with other users under the guise of avatars and usernames, thereby providing anonymity and invisibility.

Online anonymity can stimulate disinhibition, and can prompt users to say and do things online that they would not ordinarily say and do in offline settings. This can be both positive and negative: For example, children can disclose more about themselves than they would in person, which can stimulate closeness between friends (see Chapter 5). However, it can also open the door for threats to their online security or privacy. It is thus important for children to understand online norms and to learn how to maintain respect and behave ethically online, especially as some youth believe that online spaces provide them with relatively anonymous, safe spaces, free from judgment, immediate consequences or direct criticism (Runions and Bak, 2015[49]; Suler, 2004[50]).

Ethical online behaviour extends beyond action and includes reactions to others. For example, young people may perceive aggression that occurs online differently, thereby affecting their willingness to intervene in online altercations between bullies and victims (making them “cyberbystanders”). The lack of physical and verbal cues, such as body language and tone, can make it difficult to understand online intentions, making it easier for children to ignore potential aggression and avoid becoming involved. Furthermore, in comparison to the school environment, there is a lack of clearly established authority figures and rules in online spaces (Patterson, Allan and Cross, 2016[51]). This might affect how children see they can report online transgressions, and to whom. Table 12.5 sets out some of the elements involved.

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Table 12.5. Factors contributing to online disinhibition




Other Internet users cannot determine who they are; allows for separation of actions online from in-person identity, online behaviours “aren’t me at all”


People cannot see each other; subtle signs and body language signifying indifference or disapproval are not seen, which can often inhibit what people are willing to express


Interactions are not necessarily in real time; individuals do not need to cope with immediate reactions, and can make it seem easier to “put something out there”

Perception of others (Solipsistic introjection)

Reading messages from others is experienced as a voice within one’s own head, they are shaped by your expectations; “the way I see you is the real you”


Dissociation between online and offline selves; “online persona is not who I am in real life”, and allows individuals to escape from their offline selves

Minimisation of authority

In the absence of clear distinctions of authority and status, people are more likely to misbehave or speak out, however this can also empower online users to express themselves more freely and allows for greater heterogeneity in social networks

Source: Adapted from Suler (2004[50])

While the Table above focuses mainly on negative implications, some of these disinhibiting factors can empower children by allowing them to express themselves freely, stimulating their online creativity, and can also enhance closeness between friends whether mixed-mode or virtual. The anonymity of online spaces can provide opportunities for youth in historically marginalised groups such LGBTQ+ to explore their identity, participate in online discussion and come out digitally (Craig and McInroy, 2014[52]).


Netiquette, combining the net of Internet with etiquette, generally refers to acceptable online behaviour. The examples relayed throughout this chapter such as cyberbullying, and engaging in sexting or revenge porn, showcase examples of bad netiquette and can be detrimental for children’s well-being and online participation.

In the literature, netiquette can be measured in different ways. For example, Park and colleagues (2014[12]) used six questions in their survey such as “It is not a crime to bully someone online because it is not in a face-to-face interaction”, “It is okay to insult somebody by criticising them online because everyone has freedom of expression” and “It is okay to share sexual material or harmful online content online, including sending them through mobile phones for fun” to assess netiquette in a sample of South Korean adolescents. Kumazaki and colleagues (2011[53]) used a different scale, including items asking whether respondents thought certain behaviours online were wrong such as creating and spreading rumours, impersonating others online, sharing login information with friends and participating in online polls about fellow classmates while knowing this could hurt others. As is the case with other online phenomena, the definitions and ways of measuring netiquette are not consistent across the literature, and generally focus on maladaptive online behaviours.

An example of a positive angle is the use of social platforms to extend children’s social relationships and contribute to their social and political engagement. One such example are ‘flop accounts’ collectively managed by youngsters that act as fora where challenging social and political topics are discussed. The shared nature of these platforms have the added benefit of allowing trusted peers to step in to defend an individual in case of, for instance, cyberbullying. These shared accounts can also be used for negative purposes, of course.

Other topics that feature frequently in the netiquette literature include “trolling”, which can refer to causing disruption or triggering/exacerbating conflict online for one’s own amusement (Hardaker, 2010[54]), although, as with netiquette, definitions and behaviours that fall under the trolling umbrella vary (Cook, Schaafsma and Antheunis, 2017[55]). Scholars suggest that using the Internet allows for increased opportunities for aggression, as well as the willingness or ability to override inhibition as factors explaining why some individuals are more likely to act aggressively online (Anderson and Bushman, 2002[56]). However, this is indeed not the case for many children and teens engaging in online spaces; some youth are just more susceptible to succumbing to the impact of disinhibition online and to engaging in aggressive or immoral behaviour, which is a relatively understudied phenomenon (Kurek, Jose and Stuart, 2019[57]).

Dealing with challenges to ethical online use such as cyberbullying not only requires fostering netiquette but also developing social and emotional skills. Across the literature, bullying is consistently reported as one of the biggest predictors of cyberbullying (Chen, Ho and Lwin, 2017[58]). More broadly, propensity to misbehave online (i.e. engaging in deviant behaviour such as illegal downloading or accessing pornography) is strongly correlated with misbehaving offline (Selwyn, 2008[59]; Kim and Kim, 2015[60]). Therefore, addressing challenges children face in digital spheres involves online scrutiny and a host of other measures. For example, using a whole school approach that encompasses traditional anti-bullying approaches, development of social and emotional skills such as tolerance, empathy, co-operation and emotional control, can be effective measures in targeting cyberbullying. Fostering empathy through school-based programmes may be an effective measure in reducing aggression in adolescents (Castillo et al., 2013[61]), which is related to cyberbullying (Park, Na and Kim, 2014[12]).

Teachers can encourage students to critically but respectfully engage in informed discussions while building their digital confidence, motivation and skills. Schools can emphasise the production and sharing of digital content (Kahne, Hodgin and Eidman-Aadahl, 2016[62]), as well as discussions on digital behaviour and its ethical implications (Harrison-Evans and Krasodomski-Jones, 2017[46]). Parents have an important role to play too; support for families in ensuring they monitor adolescents’ behaviour and set clear rules to establish appropriate behaviour can be important in bullying prevention (Hemphill and Heerde, 2014[63]) (Wang and Xing, 2018[64]).

One key issue relates to privacy. Social networking sites are considered "private spaces", and the right to privacy must be balanced with discussions about what is appropriate to share and not. The permanent nature of content in the virtual world – and the fact that everything that is posted is likely to persist long after graduation – changes the definition of what is considered "appropriate content". Using social media profiles specifically created for school activity might be one way to overcome such concerns. Discussions, guidance and examples of how this has played out in work searches, political campaigns and other public spheres are also helpful.

copy the linklink copied!In sum

With the rise of technology use at home and in the classroom, developing digital citizenship has been a priority in countries around the world. Ensuring children are active, engaged and respectful online is essential to fostering digital skill development and inclusion of even the most marginalised of children.

The reality of being online is that children, despite their digital skill level, will be exposed to risks. Some of these include cyberbullying, sexting, revenge porn, and security and privacy breeches. By encouraging children to be resilient and to engage in ethical online behaviours, they will be more able to overcome online challenges, and can avoid becoming perpetrators or idle bystanders themselves. For governments and ministries, this will involve implementing policies to give children (and parents) the tools and knowledge to protect themselves online, establishing and disseminating clear information concerning illegal online and offline activity, and will also require the implementation of strong social and emotional learning programmes. Strong development of these skills will help children in their online and offline resilience, and may play a role in reducing online aggression and transgressions.


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Chapter 12. Empowering an active and ethical (digital) generation