The Web Walkers
Fryshuset in Sweden is a large youth centre – but it is actually much more than that. Above all, it is a vision based on the conviction that encouragement, confidence, responsibility and understanding are necessary in order to enable young people to develop their innate abilities and find their way into society. This is exactly what Fryshuset tries to do, and the place is therefore packed with all kinds of creative and constructive activities. Young people mix with adults in order to participate, contribute and learn. Fryshuset is a meeting place where people share and develop passionate interests, social commitments, sports, entertainment, culture and innovative educational programmes.
Physical Fryshuset youth centres are available in the three largest cities in Sweden: Stockholm, Göteborg and Malmö. But since the Internet now is an important meeting place for young people, the Web Walkers (“Nätvandrarna”) was founded in 2007. The aim of Fryshuset is to always be where young people are, and to meet them in their own arenas.
The Web Walkers project consists of three parts:
1. Web coaching: Adult presence on web sites where young people meet, in co-operation with the site owners.
2. The Network: A national network of experts and/or professionals in the field of social work with children and youth. The primary purpose of this network is to make sure we can always offer young people we meet online help and support offline. The second purpose is to educate volunteers working as web coaches and to spread our method.
3. The Web site: The home of the Web Walkers, where both children and members of the network always know where to find us (www.natvandrarna.se in Swedish).
We differ from other online help-line projects mainly in the way we talk to the children as ourselves; the Web Walkers are never anonymous. Each web coach has a personal presentation on each web-site where we operate. This is of crucial importance, since our mission is to both give substantial help and to use our own interests and personalities to function as adult role models. Our method is founded on relationships and identification. This method has several advantages, but demands a great degree of clarity towards the children and we can never compromise when it comes to our professionalism. Briefly put: we talk like a friend and act like an adult. Even though we have our own method of working, we are eager to learn from and share experiences with other actors working with youth and children online.
The web coaches aim to offer help and support to any young person between 12 and 20 who is online.
Every young person in Sweden should have easy access to Fryshuset and the Web Walkers when in need of help or support. They should be confident that the Web Walkers will meet their needs, either by maintaining contact or by offering another contact within our vast network of youth workers. Our goal is to meet the young people where they are, in every sense of the phrase. We want to have reliable web coaches who are easy for the young people to identify with, in all large web communities for Swedish youth. The tasks of the web coaches are:
• Work for a safe, peaceful and constructive social climate on the Internet by being a present adult.
• Ensure that the work in the arenas of the youth is inhabited by reliable and sensible adults.
We have a high presence on the Internet and the web communities for youth. Our aim is that a minimum of one web coach will be online and available to young people every night of the week until 10 pm. On weekends we will have a slightly lower presence. At the moment we are present on MSN messenger four to six evenings a week; some evenings ourselves and some our partners, such as Ersta diakoni (works with children and youth from families with alcohol and/or drug abuse) and the Salvation Army’s family centre.
We are keen to collaborate with other partners, both professional social workers and web sites. Our presence on popular youth sites has turned out very well.
In order to be there for the children on the Internet, we must be able to meet the needs they express in contact with a web coach. We need to have the resources to pursue long-term support offline if this is what a child needs. It is a great responsibility to not let a child down if they reach out with a serious problem. To fulfil what we regard as being a responsible adult, we have built a network of social workers from almost every Swedish municipality as well as representatives from 14 different NGOs in the field of young people’s physical, social and mental health (Read more). Our aim has been – no matter where in Sweden a child lives – to always be able to offer direct contact with a suitable person who can help with concrete solutions. This type of network takes a great deal of time and effort to build up and maintain, but we feel that it is a crucial part of the project.
Many children are totally alone and have no one to talk to about things that bother and concern them, which makes them vulnerable and an easy target for dubious people on the Internet and “In Real Life”.
We are not on the Internet to track down assaulters or potential criminals. Our main goal is always to strengthen children’s self-esteem and self-confidence so that they can avoid being abused or assaulted by unsuitable adults.
Fryshuset has begun the founding of a worldwide network, called World Web Walkers. After a very successful visit in La Manche, France with representatives of different social projects and institutions like CAF (the French social security organisation), the youth activity house MDA (Maison de Adolescents) and Solidarités départementales, plans were made. The next stop is the Finnish Web Walkers, Netari.
Fryshuset and the Web Walkers are interested in contact, co-operation and exchange with similar activities and organisations around the world working towards the same aim. We are most willing to share our methods and experience and to learn from others. Together we can make the Internet a positive, dynamic and ethically enriching place where children, young people and adults can thrive.