Today we are here to celebrate Safer Internet Day, and build a better internet for kids.
But this isn't just about one day, or one initiative. It's about a much wider picture. And about a question I often ask myself.
It’s this: what will our children and grandchildren do? What kinds of lives will they lead?
How will they play and develop, interact and transact?
What kind of world will they grow into? How will they learn about that world? How will they make that world a better place?
How will they find jobs – and the skills they need for them?
How will they socialise and stay in touch?
How will they find new experiences and access new opportunities?
Where will they live? How will they travel? How will they stay healthy?
We can't always predict the future. But for these questions the answer seems pretty clear: the answer is "online".
Because even today, the Internet is a tremendous treasure trove of services, activities, opportunities.
That can only continue: as more and more services and innovations go digital, from open education to smart cities.
And the fact is: today, young people lead online lives.
At its best, that online world isn't just a safe place for children to be: it’s a great place for them to be. One where they feel truly at home, creating and innovating in a way that puts us older people to shame.
I see so many creative and bright children out there doing magical things with technology. Young people showing energy, enthusiasm and entrepreneurialism. Young people with their own ideas, their own skills, — and sometimes their own businesses! Creating bright ideas that make the internet better for other young people – and indeed for adults! Young people with the talent and the determination to succeed, and the technological tools too.
That's something that gives me a lot of hope. And it's something we need to support.
Once, it was just the "real", offline world kids had to deal with.
We knew they faced risks in that world.
But we did not just teach them to fear it. We did not seek to cut them off from that real world. And, much as we tried to manage and mitigate those risks, we did not pretend we could make them vanish all together.
Rather: we taught children to take care. We helped them deal with those risks. We aided them, informed them, empowered them.
Whether it's traffic safety or dealing with bullying – we ensure they have the tools and protections, skills and safeguards they need to stay safe and happy.
The worst risks children face online can be terrible. And they are constantly changing; our understanding of opportunities and risks sometimes struggles to keep pace with a transforming technology.
But we should not seal them off from the online world or think we can isolate them from those dangers.
That could only backfire. As they get older, it is inevitable that they will go online: inevitable and essential.
When that happens, they must not be exposed, but prepared, and ready to make the most of positive online opportunity.
Our action and our cooperation are helping us deal with the dark crimes found online. Like more effective reporting and removal of child pornography.
But let’s also open up positive experiences for our kids, early on. Give them the right skills and tools, and prepare them for an increasingly digital world.
That's the philosophy that led to our Strategy on a Better Internet for Children.
And that led to our proposals to open up education. Helping teachers and pupils adapt to a world where digital tools support education that is made to measure, not one-size-fits-all. An amazing online world of information where teachers can be guides, not gatekeepers. And – let's be honest – today, the young people often have more digital skills and knowledge than the older ones. So this doesn't just mean teachers and parents educating kids – but also the other way round.
And the longer I've been in this job, the more I've seen the wonderful things young people can achieve with technology, the more I'm convinced that was absolutely the right philosophy to have.
So let's teach kids to understand their online rights – and responsibilities.
Let's ensure they have great online content to enjoy.
Let’s help them get the most from their own online experience – and treat others with respect as they do so.
Because if we do it right, we don't just enable a safer internet for kids: but a better internet for kids.
This message is spreading. Today, Safer Internet Day is celebrated not just in Europe – but across the world. Including, now, in the USA – following the agreement I signed with Janet Napolitano a few years ago.
And there are so many great things taking place today.
Today the INSAFE network launched a new initiative: for a new "youth manifesto". Because I'd really like to hear from young people all over Europe. How can we create a better internet for children –and for grown-ups too? How can we involve children in doing that? How can we involve parents, too, so that they also have the digital skills and understanding to contribute? What – or who – inspires you online, and what could inspire you better?
Call it what you want – maybe "Manifesto" is too old-fashioned. Maybe you have a better idea for what to call it. But whatever the name, the point remains: I would really like to know the valuable ideas of young people.
Today we discover and reward the best online content for kids. And the 1100 entries show just how much capability and creativity there is in this area – including from kids themselves. We see great examples: from blogs for their peer group on hobbies that interest them, to videos with kids teaching kids.
And today, across Europe and across the world, in over one hundred countries, in six continents, hundreds if not thousands of events are showing the huge range of ways to create a better internet for our young people.
Informing children – but also empowering them. And involving those others who can make a difference – parents, professors, IT professionals and many more.
Because creating this better internet for kids depends on all of us.
On those of you in the industry: in all parts of the value chain, from content creators to social networks to device makers. And I know many of you have been hard at work in our industry coalition, working on issues from age classification to parental controls. Now we need to step up those efforts, including with your financial support, to develop durable public private partnerships. You can help us scale up our actions, reach out to and inform everyone – parents, not just children. So that the tools you provide are understood by all, and at the service of all.
On those of you from the European Parliament and Council – who I know take this as a serious issue, given the importance which so many of your constituents give to maintaining a safe, open internet.
To parents – of course you have a very important role, and I want parents to be able to play that role effectively.
To those of you working on the frontline: in schools, child protection and non-government organisations.
And in almost every EU country, national digital champions are hard at work to get their country digital. I know lots of them are engaged with ensuring a better internet for children – and that many of them are here with us today.
As digital agenda commissioner, my target is to ensure every European can make the most of new digital technology. Ensuring that for our young people - the generation of digital natives - is top of my list.
Delivering them an online world that is rich and rewarding, safe and fun.
It matters for their lives and it matters for their future.
So today we have a common goal - to open up that online opportunity, through a better internet for our children. And we are working together to achieve it.
Thank you for all your efforts.