Parents: the keystone in a successful online safety strategy
When schools began their journey over a decade ago to embrace technology and connectivity within the classroom, there was one overriding consideration. The need to ensure duty of care in providing a safe place for children and young people to be.
Whilst broadband connectivity offered immense opportunity to enhance teaching and learning, it also allowed open access to an online world where risk could expose students to potential harm and expose schools to challenge and litigation if those risks were realised. It became imperative for schools to be seen to meet their duty of care and in many cases this was interpreted as restricting open access through technical interventions like filtering, security and global monitoring. Schools also faced mounting pressure from parents who needed reassuring that their children’s online experience would be completely safe. After all, school is meant to be a safe place to be and the last thing a parent wants is to have their child’s safety compromised in the classroom.
Over a period of time, this approach led to a number of consequences that proved detrimental to the empowerment the online environment could offer: many useful resources remained inaccessible, blocked by draconian filtering:the internet experience school could offer often failed to meet the aspirations of the young people in its care
the internet experience school could offer often failed to meet the aspirations of the young people in its care
Meanwhile the online environment outside school, in the home, in the fast food restaurant, or in a students pocket remained free from those restrictions. If any resource was blocked in school, a student would only need to wait until school had finished to gain access to the resource from which the school had intended to protect them. It became increasingly clear then that if a safeguarding strategy were going to be both effective and sustainable, it needed to continue to extend beyond the school gate and beyond school hours. Whilst technical intervention and monitoring would still be important, so too were clear and consistent education that needed to be continued in the home. Communicating the schools expectations to parents became a vital component of an effective safeguarding strategy and parents themselves would be a critical extension of the online safety education message.
There were some obvious barriers. Parents often did not feel empowered to be able to manage their child’s online experience for a whole host of reasons, mostly technical, and found it difficult to transfer parenting skills into what, for them, was often an unfamiliar and alien landscape. It became apparent that parental education in online safety would allow schools to extend the duty of care for their students and build in them a resilience that would insure they could keep themselves safe when technology or adult intervention were not there to do so.
Bringing parents up to speed however is no easy task.
What are the best strategies to engage parents?
How can you empower parents to deal with the complex issues their children may experience online?
How can you get parents to support and understand the online safety education program the school has adopted?
How do you build the right mechanisms to support and advise parents facing these issues and build the support structures to escalate incidents that could lead to serious harm?
How do you educate parents to do these things for themselves?
What are the most appropriate resources to which parents can be directed to manage issues on behalf of their child?
What research tells us about parent’s attitudes to their child’s online life
It is tempting to shape online safety strategy by responding to the latest media thrust and story or indeed to parental concerns driven by those sources. Whilst this may seem a high-profile solution for a school to be seen to be “doing something” it results in a reactive strategy that struggles to keep up with the rapid changes in technology.
Snapchat. Talking Angela. Sexual predation. Trolling. Facebook and under-13’s. All of these subjects make engaging copy for the tabloids but it is vital to take time to understand what is true for the students in your care and their families: understanding the behaviours associated with those technologies allows a school to shape its education programme to build the necessary resilience in children and young people for them to cope with and enjoy life in an online world.
The OFCOM Media and Attitudes Report is a bi-annual report that highlights how UK families use media and how their concerns and aspirations shape that use. It provides a useful reference to parental attitude and can help schools shape a strategy for engagement. The following summary provides the salient issues and this is what parents say:
Compared to 2012, concerns about media content for each of television, internet, mobile, gaming and radio are unchanged among parents of 5-15s overall. Parents of 3-4s and 5-7s tend to be most concerned about television, while parents of older children are equally concerned about television, the internet and mobiles.
One in five parents of 5-15s (19%) are concerned about the things their child has seen on pre-watershed TV, with 3% very concerned. These concerns relate to offensive language, sexually explicit content, and violence.
Around one in four of parents say they are very /fairly concerned about: their child being bullied online/ cyberbullying (24%); their child downloading viruses (23%) or giving out personal details to inappropriate people (22%). One in five or less are concerned about who their child is in contact with online (19%); online content (16%); that their child might bully others online (14%) or online sharing/accessing of copyrighted material (12%).
About one in four parents of 8-15s have concerns about mobile phones. They are most concerned about their child being bullied through their mobile phone, or about them sharing their personal details with inappropriate people. About one in five parents whose child has a smartphone are also very/fairly concerned about their child downloading bogus or malicious apps, or the use of location-based services on their child’s phone.
One in five parents whose child’s mobile phone is on a monthly contract have received unexpectedly high bills in the past 12 months; 10% say this is due to their child exceeding their call allowance and 5% say it is due to their child exceeding their data allowance.
Around one in eight parents of 5-15s whose child plays games are concerned about gaming content (13%) and who their child might be gaming with through their device (12%). Both of these measures are unchanged since 2012.
Most parents of 5-15s who go online at home trust their child to use the internet safely (83%), and feel that the benefits of the internet outweigh the risks (70%). Around half of parents of 3-4s trust their child to use the internet safely (52%) with most (63%) saying that the benefits outweigh the risks.
Around half of parents of 5-15s who go online at home (47%) say their child knows more about the internet than they do. Fourteen per cent of parents of 3-4s agree with this statement
Whilst this canvasses parental concerns across a broad palette of UK culture, the EUKidsOnline research programme analyses trends across the European Community and whilst there are cultural variations and peculiarities, it appears that many international parental concerns are similar.
In terms of parental awareness
Among those children who have experienced risks, parents often don’t realise this. 40% of parents whose child has seen sexual images online say that their child has not seen them; 56% of parents whose child has received nasty or hurtful messages online say that their child has not.
52% of parents whose child has received sexual messages say that their child has not; 61% of parents whose child has met offline with an online contact say that their child has not.
Although the incidence of these risks affects a minority of children in each case, the level of parental underestimation is more substantial.
In terms of what parents do to intervene and mediate:
Most parents talk to their children about what they do on the internet (70%) and stay nearby when the child is online (58%). But one in eight parents (13%) seem never to do any of the forms of mediation asked about, according to their children.
Over half of parents also take positive steps such as suggesting how to behave towards others online (56%) and talking about things that might bother the child (52%), and a third have helped their child when something arose in the past (36%).
Parents also restrict children’s disclosure of personal information (85%), uploading (63%) and downloading (57%).
One in two parents monitors their child’s internet use (after use), making this the least favoured strategy by comparison with positive support, safety guidance or making rules about internet use.
The use of technical safety tools is relatively low: just over a quarter of parents block or filter websites (28%) and/or track the websites visited by their child (24%).
Both children and parents consider parental mediation helpful, especially 9-12 year olds. Most parents (85%) are confident about their role, feeling that they can help their child if the latter encounters something that bothers them online. Parents are also confident in their child’s ability to cope with things online that may bother them (79%), and 15% claim that they mediate differently because of something that had bothered the child in the past.
Two thirds of children (68%) think their parents know a lot or quite a bit about their children’s internet use. However, 29% say they ignore their parents a little and 8% of children say they ignore their parents a lot.
Less than half (44%) of children think that parental mediation limits what they do online, 11% saying it limits their activities a lot. Children in some countries feel rather more restricted by parental mediation (e.g. in Turkey, Ireland and Bulgaria) than in others (e.g. Hungary, and the Netherlands). 15% would like their parents to do a little or a lot more and 12% would like their parents to do rather less.
Many parents (73%) are confident that it is not very or at all likely that their child will encounter anything that bothers them in the next six months.
How does this help shape an online safety strategy? On which areas of parental concern can a school focus to encourage the most effective engagement?
From the research, it is worth considering:
Not all parents are clueless
Parents are concerned about this and welcome guidance and support
Parents do not discuss these issues enough with their children in a constructive way and often do not know or understand the issues their children face
Children welcome the right support and intervention from parents if things go wrong
Very few parents either understand or employ technical intervention to monitor or manage their children’s online access
They find it difficult to initiate conversations that strike the right balance
Mobile phone use and gaming are high profile concerns
These can provide useful pointers on where to begin.
Effective strategies for parental engagement.
Since it’s inception over ten years ago, South West Grid for Learning and more recently the UK Safer Internet Centre has worked closely with large groups of parents as part of its education programme. Through its innovative school online safety tools like the multi-award winning 360 Degree Safe it has provided support and advice to schools in mapping their online safety provision, many schools progressing towards achieving accreditation through the E-safety Mark Scheme.
The following list is culled from data on over 5000 schools who employ a whole range of e-safety strategies, but in particular those who have an effective parental engagement programme.
So what works?
Understanding parental concerns
Whilst research can only offer a global view of parental attitude, it is more effective to understand the definitive concerns of your parental community. Creating the right mechanism to canvas those views can be achieved in a number of ways.
Generate a parental survey.
This can be a traditional paper based survey but can be more effective and meaningful if produced online. Survey Monkey is a free tool to produce simple or complex online surveys that include a range of responses from tick boxes to free text. It will also collate and graph the results in format that can be easily shared and discussed.
Consider the following:
Ask specific and focused questions rather than open responses eg multiple choice boxes relating to key technologies or behaviors.
Add context to encourage specific response. If you have run a student survey prior to the parental survey, use some of the information from that to inform parental questions
80% of our Year 6 are regular users of Facebook. Which of the following would reflect your thoughts?
I am not sure whether my child is on Facebook
I am part of my child’s Facebook friends list
I know that Facebook require a user to be aged 13 or over to use the service
I would be concerned if my child was using Facebook and I didn’t know
I am a Facebook user myself
I know how to support my child if they encounter issues on Facebook
I know how to get help from the school if I need it
Publicise the survey clearly in as many places you can (Website, Facebook, Twitter, newsletters, text etc) Send out timely reminders in the interim.
Leave in place long enough to collate a significant sample of response
Make access to the survey clear and easy: shorten URLs and links using a service like bit.ly or goo.gl if printing in a newsletter. Better still use a QR code that can be displayed on newsletters, posters, social media etc that links mobile directly to the survey. An example of a QRCode generator can be accessed through this link.
There is an in-built impact assessment tool in the free online safety mapping tool Online Compass from South West Grid for Learning. Whilst Online Compass is intended for children’s settings other than schools, the impact survey is a useful tool to canvass parental opinion and timestamps and collates results automatically back into the tool.
Including parent voice in shaping online safety strategy
Survey results can be effective in informing strategy but engaging a parents directly places them at the heart of what can be a complex decision making process that not only impacts on the school environment but the now extensive safeguarding environment that included the home and many places’ twixt the two.
Many schools employ the services of a parent on their governing bodies who can both ratify and challenge school policy and strategy. Encouraging parent governors to contribute an external perspective on online safety matters can be powerful, especially if combined with the obligations and expertise of the safeguarding governor. It is a worthwhile investment to provide additional training for a governor who is keen to contribute to this role.
This develops pools of expertise in your school that go beyond awareness raising and devolves stakeholdership across a wider group. Many local authorities still provide governor services some of which may include e-safety training as do other organisations eg South West Grid for Learning and Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP).
Online Safety requires successful leadership and schools who manage this aspect of safeguarding effectively, often have an e-safety lead group who are both influential and accountable. Having a parent member not only allows an external perspective but broadens the stakeholdership of the group away from a purely technical focus.
Offering opportunities to educate parents
Schools often act as learning hubs for the wider community; their facilities and expertise are a valuable asset and are often employed to provide a rich resource for families in the local area, particularly so when it comes to technology.
Getting parents along to any school event can often be a difficult task and certainly when it comes to less “sexy” subjects like “safety”. Branding can be the key to success: “Digital Parenting” “Online Parenting” “21st Century Parenting” can often be more persuasive titles than “Esafety” or “Cyberbullying”. All parents understand “parenting” but not all think their child is cyberbullied. make the connection.
Advertise the event clearly and keep promoting through the usual communication channels but particularly Twitter and Facebook. SWGfL provide Parental Session Kits to promote their parent e-safety sessions that include posters and pre-formatted letters and reminders.
Use an external expert speaker who can not only communicate key messages and advice but can also provide an interesting and entertaining event that parents will remember and disseminate. It may represent an investment, but will be effective in ensuring your strategy is promoted to best effect.
Expert technical sessions
Capitalise on internal expertise and resource(Subject Leader, Network Manager/Technician/Child Protection) to run 30 minute after-school/ in-school power sessions on areas that may well be a concern for parents; even more relevant if the survey reveals what those concerns are in the first place.
These might include:
How to make YouTube safer
Understanding gaming consoles and parental controls
Managing access on an iPad
Monitoring a mobile phone
Facebook for Dummies
Incidental education through BYOD or 1-to-1 roll-outs
Never miss the opportunity to get parents on-board with supporting your mobile device strategy by insisting that before deployment of devices, parents must attend an online safety update session where they will be required to sign up to the initiative. £450 worth of mobile device is a great incentive for parents to attend and gives the school a unique and focused opportunity to not only communicate its expectations around device use but to educate parents to be aware of potential risk and accept joint responsibility for dealing with harm that may arise.
Parent’s evenings, assemblies, school events are often times when parents will freely congregate to see their children perform or check on progress. If you have them all together in the one room…pounce! Even a well structured five minute “download” of information can provide a useful and effective punch.
Use the time before the start of a school sport’s day, concert or nativity to educate and inform parents of your expectations around the taking and distribution of digital image and video. Include the advice in the programme they take home with them.
Typical bullet points might be:
We think you should be able to celebrate your child’s performance by taking photographs to remember the event.
If you do then we ask that if you share them on social media, then only do so with immediate family and not publicly.
If you don’t know how to do this then contact XXXX and we’ll be happy to show you how.
We will challenge any public publishing of our students images that comes to our attention if we feel it doesn’t meet our safeguarding obligations.
Remember, there might be children alongside your child who are vulnerable to having their image distributed. If there are, we we will let you know of the precautions you need to take.
If you need more information on our digital images and video policy then it can be viewed at XXXX
Encouraging child/parent dialogue
A few years ago, the US psychologist Marc Prensky referred to the perceived gap between parents and their children when it came to technology. He used the phrases “Digital Natives” and “Digital Immigrants”: “natives” have grown up with technology and have a whole language and culture based around it whilst “immigrants” struggle to learn the language, the rules… what is cool, what is safe, what is right and what is wrong.
In many ways, parents can use that argument as an excuse for not becoming more involved than they do in their child’s online life.
“Oh he/she knows much more than I do. What chance have I got?”
And yet there are massive holes in those assumptions; young people may very well be comfortable with how technology works but they bring with them all of the naivety and inexperience that youth has. There a massive gaps in their understanding of privacy, ethical and responsible behaviour, the impact of their actions and risk-taking in general.
That’s the bit that parents do best; they advise; they support; they shape; they monitor their children’s behaviour and are there for them when things go wrong. They are good at that.
And that takes dialogue. But where do you start? How do you begin that conversation when parents’ own experience of online life may be limited?
Here’s some starting points, expanded upon and paraphrased from the brilliant “Digital Parenting Magazine” by Vodafone and ParentsZone (CC)
Start early and set some rules about how long they can use the TV and the iPad for
It’s important young children play with tech but keep them out of their reach so you can decide when they can have them
Think carefully about the content they watch, particularly if they are around when you or older siblings are watching TV or online
Make sure the rest of your family and friends know your rules too. Keep that consistency for your child
Manage your child’s access on a family computer by creating their own personal user account. It’s easier to track their activity
Have a conversation about the sorts of websites they should use and the ones that you would not be happy them accessing. Let them know that you will occasionally check what they are doing.
Discuss the sorts of information that are valuable to others but make your child vulnerable.
Set time limits for when and how long technology is used. Try to avoid any gaming or heavy media use one hour before bedtime
Talk about these issues with other parents and what their children are doing. Get some comparisons to inform your rule set
Gen-up on content ratings, which games or media are appropriate and which ones are not. Try Common Sense Media’s guides or PEGI
Set some boundaries when they get their first game console. Times, where it is sited. Get used to using the parental controls. They are easier to use than you think. Go back regularly to check they have not been bypassed or compromised.
Remind your child about the risks of phone theft and to not have them on display when out and about
Discuss about what they post online and what it says about them to others.
Discuss the kind of things they see online – this is the age when they might be looking for information about their changing bodies and exploring relationships, for example
Hold the line on letting your son or daughter sign up for services like Facebook and YouTube that have a minimum age limit of 13 – talk to other parents and their school to make sure everyone is on the same page
Keep checking and revisiting your rule set. It might shift and change but that should only happen through honest dialogue and compromise. Be prepared to take sanctions if the rules are broken. That could be removal of tech or disconnecting the router for the evening. Your house; your rules!
Never too late to set some rules, particularly at vulnerable points of their schooling like exams or deadlines.
Talk to them about how they might be exploring issues related to their health, wellbeing and body image online – they might come across inaccurate or dangerous information on the Web at a vulnerable time
Discuss how their behaviour and activity impacts on others how and don’t shy away from difficult conversations about things like pornography, bullying and other risky behaviours, such as sexting
Give your son or daughter control of their own budget for things like apps and music but make sure you have agreed boundaries so that they manage their money responsibly
Especially before leaving school to go onto higher education or the workplace discuss the impact of plagiarism and downloading. Help them understand what is legal.
Reach a negotiated compromise over parental controls particularly content and time spent online. Don’t forget to include all connected devices including tablets, mobile phones and game consoles.
Empowering parents by providing or advising on technical solutions to support monitoring and management of behaviour
There is an old adage reputed to be that of the Jesuit religious order that opines “Give me a child of seven, and I will show you the man.”
Supporting a young person’s development as they progress through their education requires a combination of influences, but most importantly a consistency and balance between family and school. Shaping attitudes and behaviour has always been at the heart of both education and parenting and is a progression that requires care, trust, discipline and superb timing: it’s not surprising that being a parent is hard. Nobody yet has written the definitive guide.
One thing is certain however; intelligence, knowing is the key.How can a school or parent make the right decisions for the safety and well-being of the children in their care if they don’t know what is going on
How can a school or parent make the right decisions for the safety and well-being of the children in their care if they don’t know what is going on
Technology can provide a layer of monitoring, content and access management that can provide intelligence. Judicious use of that intelligence can be an effective but not exclusive tool in wider online safeguarding education. On its own, it is seldom a “magic bullet” to protect a child but used in conjunction with other parenting strategies has benefits that are hard to replicate in other ways.
As a young person moves towards independence the need for that intelligence may wane as confidence develops and the locus of control shifts towards them, but it is not an exact science and seldom follows a straight line. There are key moments in a young person’s life where vulnerabilities peak, usually at times of physical and social change; new school; new step-parent; new sibling; new house move; new piece of technology; new social group. Combinations of these add more complexity.
Monitoring software can provide a starting points for those developments to progress in a way that inherently include adults in guiding children and young people on that journey. It can:
Draw an initial “line in the sand” that establishes expectations for all parties. The more draconian this is to begin with, the better as it allows “wriggle room” for negotiation and rewarding positive and responsible behaviour as the child/parent/school trust develops.
Acts as a springboard and focus for dialogue
Adaptable to shape the expected online experience for a child without crushing the creativity and access a child needs to build a resilience to risk
A school implementing the programme should take every opportunity to be involved in that dialogue and provide parents with extended support
Online safety curriculum that includes parent contribution
It’s fair to say that most of the issues we now see around young people’s use of technology are the result of little pedagogical or parental guidance or intervention. Even when it does occur, it is seldom comprehensive and often knee-jerk in its response. Digital literacy and citizenship skills generally do not blossom on their own but need to be taught as a key component in what is taught in modern education curricula.
Since September 2014 Ofsted have included clear references to both e-safety and cyberbullying in Schedule 5 Inspections for English schools and there is an expectation for schools to include online safety as part of their wider safeguarding brief. All Ofsted HMIs and Registered Inspectors (including social care inspectorate) are being trained in looking for features of effective practice, including what questions to ask if there are concerns. Similar conversations are also currently taking place with Estyn Wales, ETI Northern Ireland and the Scottish Inspectorate.
Within the English National Curriculum for Computing, as well as having a strong focus on technical skills like coding and programming,there are also clear references to responsible use. An overarching theme through all of the programmes of study is that students are:
“Responsible, confident, competent and creative users of technology”.
For a detailed overview of how esafety impacts on the new computing curriculum visit Strange Bedfellows; Online Safety and the Computing National Curriculum
Parents play an important role in supporting the messages about responsible use and providing a consistent approach at home and beyond. Schools should encourage parents at every opportunity to stay informed with what their child is learning. Schemes of work that include parental materials are a valuable and effective route to encouraging this.
SWGfL have provided a free Digital Literacy curriculum that is designed to empower pupils and students to think critically, behave safely, and participate responsibly in our digital world. For every single one of the 60 units of work there is a letter and a tip sheet intended for parents to not only inform them of the work their child is undertaking but to apply that education at home.
You can find those materials at the SWGfL Digital Literacy and Citizenship Curriculum site
Drip-feeding latest information through a range of existing communication routes
Whilst parent events are useful in signalling school expectations, the most effective way of changing culture and attitude is by building it into the very fabric of what the school does. The drip-feeding of messages affects change and is a key way to raise awareness of issues and the school’s expectations. Point2Protect can be the first link in that chain but also:
Sending home publications eg Vodafone Digital Parenting Magazine, free to every family within school
Many resources are Creative Commons meaning that they can be repurposed for education use as long as the owner is credited. Paste snippets into newsletters, tweets texts etc to remind parents of your expectations
Take bullet points from your Acceptable Use Agreements and paste them into event publicity and prgrammes
Send home parent focused curricular support materials (see above)
Clearly signposted resources that do not overwhelm
There is wealth of resource out there which can often cloud where a parent might go for advice and support. A quick list for your own website might be the following:
UK Safer Internet Centre Parents Guide to Technology
Vodafone Digital Parenting & Parentzone
Childnet Know IT All for Parents
Parental controls offered by your home internet provider
Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP)
NSPCC Online Safety
It’s good for parents to know that if a school can’t resolve issues itself, it does know how to signpost advice and support.
Schools can get unique advice and support for free from the UK Safer Internet Centre Professionals Online Safety Helpline
Valued and effective reporting routes for parents to contact the school
How can we keep young people safe if we don’t know what is going on? Monitoring mechanisms provide a line of intelligence to understand behaviour but also is a platform to alert schools and parents to potential issues.
Other ways this can be achieved are through:
Those organisations with effective safeguarding mechanisms often have reporting routes that are varied, valued, trusted and used. Peer escalation routes are valuable and so too are anonymous online reporting routes which take advantage of the technology young people use to pass on intelligence, whether that is from a victim or a by-stander.
SWGfL Whisper is an example of a mechanism that uses an online button, link, QR code or text number to generate an anonymous reporting box that is received by a nominated email address. Other mechanisms include SHARP an online reporting system originally developed by Merseyside police.
There is a lot of information openly available in the social media chatter online that could be instrumental in identifying a child at risk. The problem is the volume of material can be too vast for any manual searching. Alerting mechanisms are available that place an electronic ear to the ground for mentions of a specific name and trigger word that can be directed to an interested professional. It can’t pick up private conversation but very little self harm content is private because of the need to publicise and engage.
SWGfL Alerts is a service that uses a commercial brand monitoring tool called Mention to do exactly that. It trashes any extraneous content and brings results back to a dashboard where a decision can be made to intervene or not. It trawls a whole range of web and social media content and can pick up content in several different languages. Another alternative alerting mechanism may be Google Alerts
Develop a reputation as a single point of coordination and expertise for online safety
A robust online safety strategy signals a school’s commitment to protecting children. Using it to forge parental engagement only serves to strengthen those links between school and home.
When an online incident escalates to a crisis within the school community, as school’s ability to intercede and support is paramount; not only in meeting it’s safeguarding obligations but in maintaining its reputation with that community. In past incidents there is clear evidence that a school which fails to respond or support in an effective way often becomes a focus for negative parental (and in many cases press) commentary, indeed anger.
Raising staff awareness is a starting point but developing pools of expertise across key staff members is vital, particularly SLT, Governors, Child Protection, etc. This ensures a cohesive and sustainable response structure when an incident occurs.
A school’s duty of care then becomes transparent. And parents will thank you for it