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Safer Internet Day 2022: 7 things for parents and teachers to think about

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 8 February 2022

StartupStockPhotos / Pixabay

Sandra Leaton Gray and Andy Phippen.

  1. Don’t panic! Most of the time, most young people are using digital technology safely and for positive reasons. However, that is not the sort of headline that will sell newspapers and generate traffic to their websites and, moreover, it is not the sort of message that will generate many donations to NGOs and charities.
  2. Remember that being online is not the same as crossing the road, despite what you might be told. While we might talk about road safety as a concept, applying that to the online world is problematic. The road setting tends not to change too much, and crossing the road is a relatively straightforward operation that can be addressed with simple safety instructions. In contrast, there are always new aspects to the online world, new games, apps, platforms and devices. We have to bear that in mind when talking about risk. There will never be one fixed solution that always works. Parents and teachers have to go with the flow.
  3. The very word ‘safety’ implies protection from danger, risk or injury, but it’s not all dangerous online. The logical conclusion is to assume the only way we can keep children free from risk online is to take them offline. We doubt they will appreciate this, and all it means is that they might find their way to different types of harm in the offline world – we map the dangers of everyday things like school PE and back garden trampolines in our book (see our tongue-in-cheek Parental Anxiety Calibration Tool). What we can do is provide children with information on the types of risk that exist online, what they can do about them and, more importantly, if they do feel at risk, make sure they can tell us without fear of being told off.
  4. Technology is not the solution, but it can provide a set of tools to help mitigate risk. As we discuss at length in our book, technology cannot prevent harm. Tools for monitoring or tracking children don’t mean they are safe, they just mean we can see the harm occurring or, more likely, the children will bypass the tools and hide their activities anyway. However, technology can provide a number of tools if we are aware of them and are confident they can help. Blocking and reporting are fundamental parts of most mainstream platforms and if we know how to use them, they are useful tools in harm reduction and risk mitigation.
  5. Just because we see panicky stories all over the press and social media, this does not mean the Internet is suddenly harming lots of children.  Online communication platforms can sometimes look new and unfamiliar; therefore, they must be harmful, yes? This is not helped when, as soon as any new digital innovation hits the mainstream, the mass media’s view is ‘What damage can this do to children?’ Before we panic, it is important to take a breath, do some fact- checking, and maybe speak to some young people. While that fellow parent on a parenting forum might be sharing a concern about a new app that is causing harm to children with the best of intentions, a panicked response can ultimately result in children being exposed to something they weren’t aware of. Simple messages such as ‘If you see anything online that is upsetting, tell us’ is far more measured than ‘Have you heard of <new digital phenomenon x>, it’s making children self-harm?!’
  6. There are no easy answers, but talking to others can help. Child safeguarding is something that is done with a whole community of stakeholders – parents, schools, sports coaches, community workers, police, technology providers, etc. Speak to your children’s school about what they do around these issues. Who do you speak to if you are concerned about something? What are their policies on this sort of thing? Engage with others who educate, help, and support your children. You don’t have to do everything on your own.
  7. Listen, don’t judge, and understand. Young people want to be listened to and believed if they are worried about something or something has happened to them. They don’t want to be told they’re just being silly, telling tales or ‘That’s what happens if you do that’. Young people who are confident they will be listened to and supported are far more likely to disclose harm or worry.

CHILDREN AND INTERNET SAFETY QUIZ

How much do you know about children and Internet safety? This is taken from our new book, where you can follow up all of these topics and more.

  1. How would you mostly define children?

A             Smaller versions of adults

B             Vulnerable beings

C             Innocents, a blank slate

D             Creatures requiring civilising

E             A lifestyle choice

Answer – All of these terms are used in different contexts and situations, depending on what people are trying to say. In many ways, definitions of childhood say more about the adults around them than children themselves.

  1. How risky is it to be a child?

A            Things are getting more dangerous for children compared to 1950.

B            Things are getting safer for children compared to 1950.

Answer – Definitely getting safer, quite dramatically so.

  1. Which of these represents the biggest risk for children at the moment?

A             Online witchcraft sites
B             Video gaming
C             Being attacked or abducted by strangers Obesity
D             Online pornography
E             Drugs
F             Radicalisation
G             Personal data being stolen
H            Covid-19
I              Cars
J              Back garden trampolines

Answer – Statistically speaking it is cars and back garden trampolines, depending on how you are looking at it. School sport comes pretty close as well, in the high-risk stakes.

  1. Which is the most dangerous internet phenomenon?

A             Blue Whale Challenge

B             Momo Challenge

C             Slenderman

D             Doki Doki Literature Club

Answer – None of them. They are all myths (although D is at least loosely based on an app that actually exists).

  1. Which has the biggest impact on children’s wellbeing?

A             Eating breakfast regularly

B             Limiting screen time

Answer – Eating breakfast. Screen time doesn’t seem to have a particular impact on children’s wellbeing unless it’s literally the only thing they do with their waking hours.

From Leaton Gray, S and Phippen, A (2021) Digital children – A Guide for Adults (London, John Catt Publishers)

 

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