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Keeping children safe online: advice for parents and schools

It's so easy for kids to get online today. How can we make sure they're kept safe?

Posted by Stephanie Broad | October 29, 2016 | E-safety

Brett Laniosh from Naace and Catshill Learning Partnerships discusses the new trends in online communication and the issues that schools and parents should be aware of when it comes to young pupils.

We know that children are using a wide range of technology to get online at home, including games consoles, tablets and even their parents’ smartphones. This has led to a number of concerns, the main one being the issue of safeguarding. With the huge variety of potential access points to the internet, how can schools educate their pupils for all eventualities?

At Catshill Learning Partnerships, we’ve been running online safety presentations in schools for a number of years, and at the beginning of these sessions, we always ask the pupils what devices they’ve been using or had access to at home. The responses to this are always really fascinating; children from as early as reception are already using a vast range of technology. So, we set up the Pupil Internet Use Survey in order to examine how children access online content in more detail.

Unchartered territory

The main problem with technology is that schools and parents alike aren’t necessarily familiar with the ways in which their pupils and children are accessing online content. For example, games consoles can now be used to communicate with other players around the world, and also access platforms such as YouTube and even Facebook.

There is evidence that a lot of really young children are using their mum and dad’s smartphones. Of course, young pupils tend to be quite adept at using these types of technology, and will often help struggling parents or grandparents to get to grips with their devices.

While filtering and restriction systems can help limit the content that children can access on their devices, if that device is taken to a friend’s house, the same controls may not apply, so understanding exactly what can be accessed and how is essential for parents. We’re encouraging teachers to ask these sorts of questions to both students and parents, to ensure that these considerations are taken into account.

Addressing the issue

The main thing is to make sure that what they’re doing with the technology is done safely so that they’re not putting themselves in danger by going to a site that’s not suitable, and when they’re online that they’re behaving in an appropriate way. The most important thing to check is that they’re not sharing personal information publicly or with strangers online without considering what they’re doing.

Children often won’t see the harm in posting content about themselves, especially if their parents are doing the same thing. Part of the problem is that not everyone understands the privacy settings on platforms like Facebook, meaning that their content is available publicly for the world to see. Parents need to lead by example and take the time to consider their own social media channels.

This being said, there are many new social apps beyond the big players like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, such as Yik Yak and Oovoo. It’s difficult to keep on top of all this, simply because there are new developments all the time, so what’s needed is general messaging to raise awareness and ideas. Schools should run regular sessions for both their staff and parents to ensure that everyone has the latest information and that they understand what’s out there!

Voice of the children

Everyone has a responsibility when it comes to online safety, whether that’s parents, teachers, or even students. I’m keen for schools to set up Digital Leader programmes, where groups of students are able to pass on messages about safety in a voice that other young people are more likely to resonate with. There’s also the opportunity for students to help in writing the school’s online safety guide, as they will often have more insight into the newer trends online for people their age, and consequently, become your most valuable resource in this process.

There are so many devices that now utilise internet connections, whether it’s a smartphone, a television, a kettle or even a dog collar! We’re getting so used to these new technological developments within the “Internet of Things”, but we need to take a step back and evaluate the risks, so that everyone understands the multitude of possibilities online and how they can be managed effectively and safely.

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