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Published 14.12.21

Exploring effective prevention education responses to dangerous online challenges

This report on dangerous challenges was authored by Dr Zoe Hilton (Praesidio Safeguarding) with contributions from Professor Gretchen Brion-Meisels and Dr Richard Graham.

The report has been written in consultation with an expert steering group and we would like to thank them for their expert advice and input into this report: Ximena Díaz Alarcón, Professor Amanda Third, Fabiana Vasconcelos, Jutta Croll, Dr. Maura Manca, Anne Collier, Diena Haryana, Karl Hopwood, Stephen Balkam, Linh Phuong Nguyen, Daniela Calvillo Angulo, and Dr. Najla Alnaqbi.

In this report we have considered and assessed a wide range of research about dangerous challenges (including hoax challenges) and engaged with a global expert panel to inform our understanding. The report makes recommendations about how we can more effectively deliver prevention education to young people about dangerous challenges.

We know that dangerous challenges can have a devastating impact on individual children and are a source of significant concern for parents and teachers, who often feel uncertain and anxious about how to respond. We have found that there is a need for a better and more nuanced response to preventative and educational approaches that meet the needs of children and young people who may encounter dangerous challenges and may be at risk of participating in them.

We have learned, through reviewing work on the effectiveness of different prevention programmes, that approaches are effective when they are evidence-based, inclusive and meaningful for the children and young people targeted. The survey data that we have available suggests that most challenges are seen by young people as either fun/light-hearted or risky but safe. As such, education prevention strategies built on the premise that all challenges are inherently dangerous will not align with young people’s lived experience. In this report we find that it is important to acknowledge the spectrum of experiences that online challenges present and respond to the data, which suggests that the support and guidance young people would most welcome is help to identify which ones are too risky. It should also be noted that the survey data suggests that the majority of young people are not participating in challenges of any kind (including even those that are fun and safe) and that only a small minority of those participating in challenges are doing so with ones they consider to be dangerous.

This report recognises that children’s rights apply in the digital world as well as in their offline lives, and that children have a right to be safe online, as well as a right to privacy, access, play, and information together with a right to participate in decisions that affect them. We highlight in this report that children and young people should be involved in shaping and informing effective interventions which are socially inclusive as well as developmentally appropriate in line with their evolving capacities.

Having examined the available data and information in relation to dangerous challenges, we have sought to identify some promising approaches to enhancing prevention education interventions for a range of stakeholders.

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