In cooperation with the Faculty of Education and Rehabilitation (ERF) of the University of Zagreb, Hrvatski Telekom launched the "Tools for modern times" project, the first structured and science-based program whose goal is to prevent risky behavior among elementary school students, primarily 7th and 8th grade students, but also adolescents in a virtual environment. Scientific research that was the starting point for creating the program shows a range of risky behaviors of adolescents on the internet, which result in serious adverse consequences in the field of mental health and interactions in the real world.
The comprehensive preventive program "Tools for modern times", which will be implemented in elementary schools throughout Croatia, is necessary because 30 percent of students in Croatia use the internet for more than four hours a day, and a quarter of them themselves recognize that they are too immersed in the virtual world. Fifty percent of adolescents check social media as soon as they receive a notification, without delay and regardless of what is happening around them. One percent of high school students meet the criteria of internet addiction, and 20 percent already manifest problems related to excessive internet use, which means worrisome four students per class.
About "Tools for modern times" program
Such results can be partly attributed to the lack of systematic investment in developing skills among young people, specifically in the responsible use of digital technologies. The preventive program developed by ERF and implemented in cooperation with Hrvatski Telekom includes 11 structured and interactive workshops for students, which trained expert associates and teachers will conduct. The ERF author's team comprises experts with years of practical, scientific, and teaching expertise in risky behavior and behavioral addictions and extensive experience in developing science-based interventions aimed at children and young people. In the project's first year, six three-day trainings will be provided for the future facilitators of the preventive program in Zagreb (two trainings), Osijek, Rijeka, Varaždin, and Dubrovnik. Training is conducted within the Lifelong Learning Center of the Faculty of Education and Rehabilitation Sciences of the University of Zagreb. Upon completing the training, expert associates and teachers will implement the program as part of systematic preventive school activities.
High-quality training of program facilitators is crucial for the success of interventions since, in this way, continuous and effective preventive action is ensured in Croatian schools, not only for current but also for future generations of elementary school students. An additional element of the program is interactive lectures for parents of students to get accurate and relevant information for identifying potential risks for children on the internet. The program has already been tested and proved to be effective in strengthening students' social-emotional skills, enabling them to deal with stress better, think critically, and increase the quality of relationships in the virtual and physical world.
"At Hrvatski Telekom, we are convinced that technology is a prerequisite for progress and that it has transformative power. Not only in the context of the economy but in creating a digital platform through which children and young people can realize their potential. This is also why we have provided STEM education, developed digital tools, and implemented literacy programs for many years. To get the best out of technology, the key is to use it responsibly and safely, aware of all the characteristics of the digital environment, and this especially applies to children and their behavior online. Through cooperation with ERF and the implementation of 'Tools for modern times,' which is the first science-based program for the prevention of risky behavior in the digital world, our wish is to make the necessary progress in elementary schools and enable even happier and more carefree schooling and growing up for generations of schoolchildren. In the first wave, the program will be implemented in five cities, with the participation of more than 100 schools from 17 counties. Our desire is to cover the whole of Croatia in the coming years", said Igor Vukasović, director of corporate communications at Hrvatski Telekom.
Worrisome results of the survey on the behavior of adolescents online
By systematically preventing risky online behavior, we want to reduce the worrisome statistics primarily related to risky behavior in the virtual environment. Surveys show that 10 percent of children have had an unpleasant online experience, and children who experience violent behavior online are more likely to experience violent behavior in a real environment. Also, every other young adolescent receives sexual content from known and unknown persons, and 20 percent of them forwarded other people's sexual content without that person's consent. As many as two-thirds of adolescents corresponded with a person they met online, and a third showed extremely risky behavior by meeting such a person without their parents' knowledge.
"The need for preventive action in this area is undeniable. Digital technologies are developing extremely quickly; they are attractive and, in many ways, useful for our everyday lives. At the same time, certain risks of the virtual environment are known, which can lead to excessive behavior and which we definitely want to prevent. We have been developing this program for several years, and its effects are promising. Investing in developing the socio-emotional skills of children and young people, specifically in this area, is critical because they represent fundamental competencies that contribute to positive developmental outcomes and digital literacy. We are happy that Hrvatski Telekom has recognized the value of this project and its readiness for cooperation to ensure long-term, sustainable, and comprehensive preventive interventions at the national level. The interest and response of teachers and expert associates in schools is exceptional, confirming that our actions align with the risks that characterize their daily interactions with children, " concluded the Project Manager. Neven Ricijaš, Ph.D.