Make children safe online

Saferoom – Online Media Literacy

Digitalisation & Technology, 04.02.2021

Hanno Lenz is part of the Innovation and Digital Transformation department at ERGO. Privately, he is also involved with the issue of digital development. In 2013, he founded the "Saferoom – Online Media Literacy” initiative. The central topic of the initiative is a child-friendly internet.   

Hanno, you work at the Innovation and Digital Transformation department at ERGO. Privately, you are also involved with the issue of digital development in society. What exactly do you do?

In 2013, I launched the "Saferoom – Online Media Literacy” initiative. Now other freelance employees are supporting our objective of making children safer online. Our target groups include teachers, parents, children and young people. We provide orientation support in the form of infor-mation events and workshops. They mainly focus on child-friendly online activities, online gaming and addiction dangers, social networking and cyberbullying. We inform parents, not by wagging our finger at them, but by talking to them as equals and trying to give them a broad overview about what attracts children so much to the internet, games and networking. We primarily discuss the risks and dangers associated with this.

“Saferoom is my labour of love. It’s how I want to leave my mark on the world.”

Hanno Lenz, Innovation & Digital Transformation Manager at ERGO

Where do you currently consider the greatest risks to be for children and young people when they go online? What can parents do about it?

In many cases, children and young people are supervised far too little by their parents when it comes to safe and friendly online activities. They underestimate the importance of protecting their own personal privacy and their dealings with each other online are becoming ever-coarser and more brutal. Children usually get their own smartphone from the age of 10 onwards. Apart from the great things that they can experience with their friends through social networks and online games, they are also confronted by a lot of content that is not child-friendly and is even illegal. Online dependence is also on the increase. Children and young people are constantly triggered to stay online by the algorithms and functions in social networks or games.

Many parents are unaware of these developments in cyberbullying, dangers from online sexual attacks or the risk of addiction from social networks and online gaming. Nonetheless, they still have concerns and often decisions lead to them banning children out of a sense of fear and a lack of awareness.

As the father of two boys aged 15 and 18 years, I totally understand parents’ behaviour. It is hard to deal with issues that possibly don’t even interest you, such as how Snapchat or TikTok work. And it’s a challenge to keep pace with the speed of social change, communication behaviour and technology.

How does the “Saferoom” initiative help with this?

Our mantra and common goal is to make children safe online. We work towards safe and con-scious interaction with each other on the internet. We inform parents, children and young people – not by wagging a finger at them, but by working with them as equals and with respect. We are advisers, not know-it-alls. 

First and foremost, we offer information events in different formats, either as in-person or virtual events. We discuss issues, including getting online, social networks, cyberbullying, online gaming and addiction dangers with the parents of children aged between 6 and 13 (primary school and early secondary school children). We also discuss other criminal aspects, such as sending Nazi images, incitement of people, insults etc.

Then with the children and young people – and depending on the age group – we discuss what is really good about the internet, as well as what can be risky and dangerous. We discuss and reflect about people’s behaviour online, particularly in WhatsApp chats, Instagram or Snapchat.

We talk about their consumption of media and experiences of gaming. Through a light-hearted game, we then work out agreements for friendly, safe and appropriate online activities. We developed the “Abgemacht!” (“A Deal!”) card game for this.

Hanno Lenz with the card game „Abgemacht!“

That sounds really exciting. What kind of game is it?

“Abgemacht!” is a card game for parents, teachers and children that helps them to reach agreement for friendly and safe activities online. By uncovering matching pairs, the players develop agreements that are then explained in more detail in a booklet. For instance, agreements, such as “I will not meet people I have met online”, “I will watch what I post” or “I won’t bully anyone”. The explana-tions then talk in more detail about why these agreements are so important. Everyone involved then discusses them and, ideally, defines their own rules for correct behaviour online and on a smartphone.

In your opinion, is the state currently doing enough to educate schools and teachers technically and professionally about this issue?

The federal government is putting up a lot of money that can be used for digitalisation in educational institutions. We do not have a problem analysing and assessing the situation we find ourselves in. In my view, we are too weak and bureaucratic when it comes to implementing measures. For instance, every school needs to develop a concept and outline its digital equipment requirement, which includes PCs, whiteboards, VR goggles etc., which is then passed by the school board to the state government, is checked and hopefully then approved. Supplying high-speed broadband to schools can also take years as, once again here, EU tendering procedures have to be complied with.

The current remote online learning situation again illustrates the current crisis very well. As the father of school-age children, I can see at first-hand the efforts that many teachers are undertaking to become online-capable. They lack adequate equipment, knowledge of the correct use of media and applications, and the motivation to teach pupils the best possible way online.

What do you think: What do we need?

In my view, we need a non-bureaucratic distribution of funding to ensure that all schools are equally equipped with digital teaching aids, computers etc. Immediate connection of all schools to high-speed broadband. Central basic teaching concepts for digital learning to save time, and prevent all schools having to develop their own concepts for appropriate teaching, which can then be adapted and expanded.

Teachers need to be trained in the use of digital learning applications AND – here we are again at media literacy – require an overview of how social media, online games, algorithms etc. work. We need training in appropriate, friendly and safe online activities in schools as well. Of course, this is also an important task for parents, which they do not always appreciate or feel able to do. Unfortunately, I often experience that parents, as well as teachers, are clueless when it comes to the number of apps, networks, games and the dangers associated with them. It takes work, a lot of work.

Unfortunately, we currently do not have an overview as to whether all children and young people have mobile devices. Thankfully, there is a state-funded emergency programme and many companies and parents are donating laptops to schools to ensure that all children have the right equipment.

There are still so many other issues that need to be addressed in this context. They are probably beyond the remit of this interview :-)

Last year you won a prize. What was that all about?

In September 2020, we were presented with our first Business Award In the “Social” category. We we thrilled to receive it and, of course, if further motivates us to drive forward our mission. The award was a nice acknowledgement of what we are trying to do. Overall, we have already reached 10,000 people in our events, and are now also working with major companies and German Bundesliga football clubs.

What's next?

There’s a lot coming up! There are now 7 of us with a wide range of skills. This means that we can increasingly go into schools and organise workshops with children and young people. We are developing new formats for nursery school parents, trainers, teachers, carers and young people over the age of 13. We are expanding our range of media and are also developing teaching videos and probably podcasts.

At some point we would also like to make the “Abgemacht!” game digital – at least for training purposes. Like last year, we will probably organise a major fund-raising campaign this year to enable us to supply games to many social institutions. That was really well received last year. And – another game is already in the pipeline.

Thank you very much for this interview!

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