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ML: Action Innocence was created in 2002. Since then, 52,250 children have benefited from the prevention program. How has the organization evolved since then and how is it structured?
ND: The charity is now almost unrecognisable from the one we began nearly 15 years ago. Many of the changes have occurred as a result of the changing nature of how we communicate and the means of communication. We started with one psychologist, we now have three to four psychologists. We started our awareness classes at secondary level by talking about the dangers when using a desktop computer because primary school students didn’t have access to the internet and rarely to a computer. We now begin at primary level as not only do most primary students own or have access to a computer, but many have tablets and smartphones.
Simply put, we have a Board who oversee how we run the charity: the budget, our awareness campaigns, PR and communications, and fundraising activities. We have a manager who takes care of the daily running of our activities and tasks that includes liaising with Monaco’s Direction de l’Éducation Nationale de la Jeunesse et des Sports, liaising with the Heads of schools in Monaco, PACA region and beyond, which has included Corsica and Paris, and oversees how we deploy our three or four psychologists throughout the Principality and beyond.
ML: What are your goals and how do you engage parents?
ND: Our main goal is to warn children and adolescents on the dangers of the internet, not to demonise this wonderful tool, but to make them aware of its pitfalls and its associated dangers and to try to instil an ethic and proper conduct while navigating and using the internet.
Our psychologists visit every class in every school in the Principality at primary and secondary levels.
We have great difficulty in engaging parents! We endeavour to involve the parents because so many parents are not only unaware of what their children are doing when they surf the internet, whether on their computer or smartphone, or whether they are at home our outside the home.
The best protection is only possible when the parents are involved. Would you let your child cross a busy street if you hadn’t explained the dangers? That is in effect what you are doing if you aren’t there to accompany and understand your child’s internet activities.
We have three parents meetings this year. The first one attracted 19 parents out of over 1600 parents that were invited – three of those parents weren’t from the Principality! One was a teacher from a neighbouring school in Italy, another was a teacher in Beausoleil; they had come because being aware of their pupils’ activities they were looking for advice as the children’s parents had abnegated their responsibility.
ML: Could you provide a few figures with us?
ND: Since the creation of the association, 2112 interventions have been carried out in Monegasque and French schools, of which 264 were during the school year 2015-2016.
More than 3000 mouse pads, which offer the Top 10 Tips on how to use the internet safely, are distributed annually to children enrolled in CE2 (9th grade) in Monaco schools.
And since the start of the current school year, 400 webcam masks have also been offered to all CE2 students schools in the Principality.
ML: Action Innocence has a section for Children, Teens and Parents, and also Games. What information is available here?
ND: At each level, like the Children’s’ Corner (7 to 11 year olds), we provide advice, pamphlets and/or videos on the pitfalls of using the internet that are adapted to the age group. For Teens’ Corner, we offer, again, advice but in the form of a comic book novel (in French). Parents’ Corner is about the risks but also advice related to your children and the internet (the pamphlet is in French). Quizzes are a fun way for children and young people to learn and be aware of all of the above.
ML: Can you offer some advice to parents on how to best supervise their children’s internet use?
MD: Some suggested advice can be obtained by navigating our website – such as finding a good software package for a parental control.
Use a parental control – you can find the this can limit the amount of time your child spends on the internet, good filters set rules and time schedules (the hours when he can and can’t use the internet), blocks pornography and much unsuitable content.
Also, the desktop computer should be in a shared room, such as the living room, not in their bedroom, and smartphones should also not be left in their bedrooms overnight.
Very importantly, share and guide your children as to what they should and shouldn’t do on the internet. This also means that they must have the confidence to share with you anything that might shock or traumatise them i.e. violent images or images with sexual content they might have seen – it’s important not to scold them. We have noticed many children want to tell their parents they have been frightened, but are afraid to tell their parents as they worry they will be told off for being on a website they shouldn’t have visited – so it’s very important for them that they can be open with you.
ML: What are the main fundraiser events and what are the funds used for?
ND: Our main and really only fundraising event is the sale of Christmas trees, generously offered by over two-dozen benefactors and these are sold at auction mid-December. This year’s auction will take place at 6:30 pm at the Hotel de Paris on Thursday, December 14 in presence of our patron, HSH Prince Albert II. Monseigneur has always backed our activities and attends our auction every December.
The funds are to finance our prevention campaigns in schools: to pay the salaries of our psychologists who intervene in each classroom, at each primary and secondary level throughout the Principality. To provide various tools such as mousepads with some basic rules that will remind children in primary school what to do and not to do on the internet, webcam covers to all children in primary and secondary schools so that their webcam can not be pirated and used by someone with bad intentions. We also spend part of our budget on campaigns on cyber-bullying, bullying, the dangers of the internet, etc… which include posters in each school, sometimes in the street and the distribution of printed cards with help-lines to call in the event of cyber-bullying, bad encounters, etc…
ML: How does membership work? How can residents get involved?
ND: Anyone can become a member, we ask for a donation of 100 Euros, but we have very, very few members, just over a couple of dozen, 28 to be precise.
Like many charities, we are only looking for volunteers with professional qualifications in those areas we work, so graphic artists for our campaigns might be welcome and translators from French to English for our literature.
We are always on the lookout for psychologists.
Residents can get involved by making sure parents attend our parents’ meetings! Our next one is on the January 24 at the Lycée Technique et Hôtelier de Monaco in French at 8pm, then the following one is on the March 23, also at the Lycée Technique at 8pm, but in English.
Residents can also purchase a Christmas tree on the December 14 at our auction at the Hôtel de Paris or make a donation.
ML: What is your role in the association and how did you get involved?
ND: I am the vice-president and became involved as I was asked prior to the charity being set-up in Monaco as to whether I would be interested in being part of the charity’s Board. I suppose my media work around women, children and vulnerable people was the reason I was approached.
ML: Why is it important to support a charity?
ND: I believe all of us can contribute to bettering our society, particularly if we are privileged, which if you are living in Monaco, most of us are. It’s a way of giving something back, either by giving one’s time or contributing financially to help others when and where their needs are great.
ML: What has been one of your fondest memories related to your involvement?
ND: Without any question of doubt it’s sitting in the back of the classroom and watching our psychologists interact with the children. I can see in the absence of parental advice, our psychologists and Action Innocence make a difference in making our children a little more internet savvy and their world a little safer.
For more see the Action Innocence website.
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