European teens use their voices for digital good at Italy’s Safer Internet Day events

Jacqueline Beauchere participates in a panel discussion on online well-being with teens and researchers in Milan, Italy.

Cyberbullying, sexting and online well-being are among 16 priority areas selected by young people across the globe as part of the 2020 Smarter Internet for Kids Agenda announced last week in Italy. Microsoft was on hand to hear the ideas and view the work of dozens of teens, all while continuing to promote digital civility, safer and healthier online interactions among all people.

Poster displaying the 2010 Safer Internet for Kids agendaIn an online vote conducted by the European Council for Digital Good, (a “sister” council to Microsoft’s inaugural Council for Digital Good), more than 2,000 youth from 34 countries[1], chose the most significant and topical online safety issues. Privacy and data protection topped the list, while child sexual exploitation, misinformation and hate speech also ranked among the top 16. Digital civility/netiquette came in at No. 18, just missing the top 16 priorities. Yet, related topics online well-being and online safety, took the No. 12 and No. 13 spots, respectively. The 16 goals were selected to mark 16 years of international Safer Internet Day and were announced in Milan on Feb. 4, the eve of Safer Internet Day 2019.

Once the 16 priority areas were identified, young people from 10 countries designed specific targets for each priority, as well as the means of achieving them. On Feb. 3, the teens memorialized their plans in posters that were displayed at a more public event on Feb. 4. Those attending the event voted on the most compelling and informative poster, with the critical topic of online well-being taking the top honor. Across these priorities, youth are calling on people around the world to work with them to reach their goals in just one year, by Safer Internet Day 2020. (Learn more at

Microsoft hosts pre-Safer Internet Day activities in Milan

I had the privilege of attending this series of pre- and Safer Internet Day activities with the teens, including the working session on Feb. 3, held at the Microsoft House. There, 60 young people gathered to learn of the priority areas from members of the European council, discuss the issues and create their posters. Nine teens were then selected to prepare for three separate panel discussions the next day. I worked with and helped to prepare three incredible teens from Greece, Iceland and Italy for a panel on online well-being where sexting, cyberbullying and incitement to harm were the featured topics. The next day, I delivered a presentation about Microsoft’s own Safer Internet Day release and served as the adult respondent on the panel.

“Just touching our screen, we are changing someone else’s life,” Paola from Italy told the audience during the online well-being panel. “Humans are not perfect; we are not perfect, but are we being asked to be perfect” for fear that all of this generation’s youthful missteps will be played out online?

These and other questions made for a thought-provoking and compelling session, where the participants drew distinctions between growing up in decades past and growing up in an online era. They spoke of friends and classmates being driven by “likes” and “followers;” they debated the risks and realities of sexting and encouraged others to stand up for those being bullied or treated uncivilly online.

“Listening and heeding the voice of youth is essential in the online world,” said Janice Richardson, the creator of international Safer Internet Day and the coordinator of the European council. “Children and young people are generally the early adopters of new technology, at a time when they are still developing their values and attitudes and don’t yet have the life experience upon which resilience is built.” (Along with university professor Ernesto Caffo of Telefono Azzurro, Italy’s helpline for children and adolescents, Richardson co-sponsored the events in Milan.)

Adults: Be open to questions from youth about life online

That is precisely why it is equally important to involve and educate parents, teachers, coaches, counselors and other adults in the ways teens and young people are engaging with technology. Youth need to be able to go to adults for advice and guidance about online risk exposure, and this is borne out in research.

On Safer Internet Day 2019, Microsoft released its third annual installment of research from teens and adults in 22 countries about their exposure to 21 different online risks. Data show that now more than ever, teens around the world are turning to parents and other trusted adults for help with online issues. Across the countries surveyed, 42 percent of teens said they asked a parent for help with an online risk in the last year, up 32 percent from the previous year. Meantime, 28 percent of teens said they turned to another trusted adult, up 19 percent. In Italy, those percentages jumped to 44 percent and 21 percent, respectively, up from just 5 percent for both adult groups a year earlier.

The messages from these data for both adults and teens are clear. Parents and teachers need to familiarize themselves with teens’ online activities and the risks young people may encounter online. Most importantly, adults need to be open to talking with youth, focusing on listening and suspending judgment. Meanwhile, teens need to reach out to grown-ups whom they trust if something they see online threatens them or makes them uncomfortable; odds are their friends and classmates are doing the same thing. (View the full 2019 research report here.)

Another youth-focused event took place on Safer Internet Day, Feb. 5 in Rome. Government and law enforcement officials, representatives from technology companies and leaders of nongovernmental organizations assembled to make short presentations to some 200 young people and to respond to their questions. This event was also sponsored by Telefono Azzurro.

Microsoft’s Council for Digital Good champions SID 2019

Meanwhile, back in the U.S., members of Microsoft’s inaugural Council for Digital Good took these messages to their peers and younger kids on Safer Internet Day 2019, with several members holding workshops and after-school activities about embracing digital civility and staying safe online. Our inaugural council was made up of 15 teens from 12 U.S. states selected in 2017 to help spread the word about digital civility and to grow a generation dedicated to safer and healthier online interactions. (Learn more here and here.) Although the official pilot program wound down in July 2018, several teens remain active in promoting digital civility and online safety.

Erin, from Michigan, hosted an event, and got 150 9- to 12-year-olds to commit to safer online habits and practices by advocating for the four tenets of the Microsoft Digital Civility Challenge:

  1. Live the Golden Rule
  2. Respect differences
  3. Pause before replying, and
  4. Stand up for one’s self and others. (Click here to read the full Digital Civility Challenge.)

Bronte, an 18-year-old from Ohio, reached out to fellow high school students, asking them what their ideal internet would look like, and suggesting they sign a “pledge for a safer internet.” Indigo, from California, led 50 fourth- and fifth-graders in games and activities that she created to instill good online behaviors. Other council members also held events in their schools and communities.

We can’t say enough about the young people we’ve met and continue to meet, as we spread the (still fairly new) message of digital civility. We thank them for valuing the concept and for being leaders among their peers and other youth.

Safer Internet Day 2019 may be in the rearview mirror, but there’s still time to commit to putting our best digital foot forward by taking the Digital Civility Challenge and committing to its four ideals. It’s not too late to share your pledge on social media. Use the hashtags #Challenge4Civility and #Im4DigitalCivility. For other information about online safety, visit our website and resources page, and for more regular news and information, connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

[1] Albania, Armenia, Australia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Faroe Islands, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, India, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Mongolia, Morocco, Poland, Romania, Senegal, Slovakia, Spain, Syria, The Netherlands, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States

At the time of writing of this post, Jacqueline Beauchere’s title was Chief Online Safety Officer.


Tags: ,