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How can we keep our children and students safe online in this ever-changing digital world?

1 July 2019

How can we ensure the safety of our young people, whilst also allowing them to explore the many learning benefits of this digital age?

How safe are our children?

Last month, the NSPCC (The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) held its annual “How safe are our children?” conference, focusing on the difficulties those who work with young people face when trying to monitor a child/students exposure to sensitive or inappropriate material online.

Sector leaders and experts shared their wide knowledge and solutions to protect children when using digital devices and the internet. Conference speakers included many notable figures such as Sharon White (The Chief Executive at Ofcom) and the Rt Hon Damian Hinds MP (Secretary of State for Education).

Mr Hinds spoke of the updated guidelines that will be put in place to ensure further protection for vulnerable young people online in the UK. He said:

“It’s based on the premise that if you really understand the technology, you’re less likely to get used by the technology. Then even when the technology changes, your knowledge is somewhat future-proof.”

“At the most elemental level, it’s about understanding what people’s motivations are – why people behave differently when they’re behind a computer screen and why companies want to get your data for commercial advantage”

The guidance includes the importance of teaching online safety in schools, covering topics such as catfishing, fake news and targeted advertising. It is the hope of the education secretary that students will become more resilient and aware of tricks used by digital platforms to track online behaviour and how someone could easily create a fake profile.

At the NSPCC event, the Rt Hon Jeremy Wright QC MP (Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) also spoke and gave an impassioned speech about how the government is going to continue tackling this divisive and important issue. He vowed that the government is to create a regulator that would impose sanctions on digital companies and platforms failing to abide by a code of practice. He said:

“We expect, we deserve, and we will require that some of the cleverest companies in the world use their ingenuity to protect us, as well as to sell to us”

Alongside the key speakers, the NSPCC event explored several agendas such as: how young people can safely experience the benefits of online games, understanding the role of technology in young people’s relationships and helping parents keep children safe online.

Though the new rules are non-statutory, they are due to be rolled out to primary and secondary school children from 2020. Subjects including citizenship and computing will be included in the curriculum and in some cases will be mandatory. Officials are hoping that the changes will equip children to understand the skills needed to use the internet safely.

What can I do at home to protect my children online?

The explosion of the digital age and the relative ease of access to the internet means that children and young people are constantly exposed to aspects of the world which their teachers and parents never experienced at such a young age.

But there are so many ways you can protect a child from online abuse, inappropriate material, misleading information and other such threats to their innocence and understanding. Through education and open communication with your child, you can effectively reduce the risk of them accessing harmful content. It is no easy task however and it requires dedication and responsibility from you as a parent.

Get ahead of the kids!

According to MP Jeremy Wright, ninety-nine percent of twelve-fifteen-year olds are online, spending around twenty hours a week on the internet. They are actively using the internet to connect with existing friends, and to make new ones. They like to browse the web to find information for both schoolwork and personal reasons, live chat with each other, and play online games. All this interactivity alone in front of a computer screen can be a huge concern for many parents.

It’s important to know exactly what your child is doing, or at least understand the risks. A young person’s online activity can often be broken down into the following areas: sharing information, socialising, researching, commenting, live chatting and playing/entertainment.

The most common platforms children use online are Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google and YouTube. Generally, the minimum age requirement to use such platforms is 13 years old, but it is near impossible for these companies to enforce such a rule.

As a parent, you should be strict with allowing your child’s access to these sites at such an early age as it can become harmful if not used correctly. By informing yourself of these platforms, their regulations and guidelines, you can engage with your children informally about the proper usage. Set an example by using these platforms yourself in a healthy and positive way and openly discuss why they can be harmful to your child and how to engage only with safe material.

Online threats

Exposure to inappropriate online content is a severe risk children face. It is important to emphasise to a child (depending on their age) that the internet does give many people opportunity to spread harmful opinions, messages of hate or share inappropriate photographic and film materials. This needs to be managed by you as a parent and it is recommended you take the necessary steps to block access to such material by using the many relevant security programmes out there designed to do so for anyone under eighteen.

Would you allow your child to engage and talk to a stranger in the street alone? The answer is probably no and so why should it be different online? The practice of “friending” someone online is common these days, but given how impressionable a young person is, it should not be encouraged unless the child actually knows the individual.

 


Take part

Get to know what your child is doing online by showing an interest. If your child enjoys playing online games, ask to join them once in a while. The more time you spend with your child, the more you will have an insight into their online habits and what interests them.

If your child is on social media, perhaps send them a friend request. Keep an eye on what they may be engaging with but never embarrass them by publicly commenting on their posts/images. If you have any questions or concerns, discuss it with your child in person as this encourages a healthier way to resolve issues away from the online world.

Set some rules

By setting some rules early in a child’s development when using the internet, you will save yourself a lot of trouble down the line. Perhaps allow access to the internet for an hour or two in the evenings after school, make sure your child doesn’t have endless access online on their mobile devices and ensure a healthy and positive relationship with the digital world is established. If your child is very young, don’t just allow them to sit in their room all day on the computer, make sure any devices are used in a family space where you can subtly keep an eye on things.

Overall it is a parent’s responsibility to keep a child safe, both in the real world and online. In school, this responsibility falls to the teachers and educators who look out for them. There are so many ways to ensure a child has a healthy and positive experience using the internet and its up to you to put things into practice.


What are UK boarding schools doing to tackle the issue?

Many UK boarding schools have their own policies and regulations to tackle online safety. Lessons in subjects such as PSHE and Technology will often cover a broad range of online issues young people face.

At Sevenoaks School, a highly selective coeducational independent school in Kent, PSHE and Technology classes help students to promote themselves, their friends and the school positively online.

“We work with students to explore risks like cyberbullying, sexting, personal safety, radicalisation, addiction and obsession as well as malware and hacking. This is highlighted especially every year during October’s Online Safety Week activities and in February to mark the annual, international Safer Internet Day.”

Other boarding and day schools such as Eton College and Cranleigh are taking extra steps to ensure their boarders aren’t exposed to excessive online activity. Read more about this in another one of our blog posts here.

Inform yourself and ask questions!

There are so many charities such as the NSPCC and Childnet that exist to promote the importance of child safety online. Read further about the important issues young people face when using the internet and never be afraid to ask your child questions about their experience online.

UK Study Centre is fully committed to the online protection of all our students, both in our tutoring and guardianship sectors. All our academic tutors and experienced guardians are required to pass government standard background checks in order to work or care for our students. Should you wish to know more, please get in touch here.

 

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