Sexting? Pornography? Revenge porn? Cyberbullying? Trolling? Self-harm? Stalking?
Young people’s use of online technology may look as though it is a new and unprecedented challenge, but one thing history teaches us is “ever has it been thus”.
Around 400 BC, Socrates wrote:
“Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”
US Writer Daniel Marsh wrote in 1950:
If the television craze continues with the present level of programs, our children are destined to become a nation of morons.
Whilst technology may be new, it should be regarded as just another platform where behaviour plays out. And shaping our children’s behaviour: guiding, advising, underpinning and supporting is what schools and families do best. Our children are not born experts in online life. They may have an affinity for technology but they are still children with all of the inexperience and naivety that brings. It is our job to support those things, no matter in which aspect of their life they occur. Focusing on the behavioural aspects of technology is the most effective way to allow any organisation to take advantage of the empowerment new technologies can offer, whilst ensuring the right safeguarding mechanisms are in place to intervene when (not if) incidents occur.
So what about the risks?
Education is a risky business: always has been and always should be.
Students who take risks and make mistakes are the most likely to advance their own learning experience as long as the environment in which they do so supports that culture. Creating those environments has been a key component of most pedagogical approaches: every time a child answers a question they run the risk of getting it wrong and yet we ensure there are support structures that allow them to be wrong constructively. Being brave safely.
With technology however, there seems to be a different approach … here there is an open fear for many organisations that technical intervention and control is the key component in keeping children safe. Indiscriminate, undifferentiated filtering may make a school feel it has met its “duty of care” but as a safeguarding strategy it has its weaknesses, especially if a student can access filtered content on the 4G mobile in their pocket or at the very least go home and access it. It also crushes the opportunity to create the right “learning sandbox” that takes advantage of all of the services online collaborative technologies have to offer and to build the resilience in children they need. Ofsted in their online safety school review “Safe Use of New Technologies” concluded that:
“Pupils in the schools that had ‘managed’ systems had better knowledge and understanding of how to stay safe than those in schools with ‘locked down’ systems. Pupils were more vulnerable overall when schools used locked down systems because they were not given enough opportunities to learn how toassess and manage risk for themselves”.
A system that allows the flexibility to differentiate according to need and vulnerability; that provides a managed environment both at home and in school is an important component of any safeguarding strategy.
The breadth of issues classified within e-safety is considerable, but can be categorised into three areas of risk. Common risks include:
- exposure to inappropriate content, including online pornography; ignoring age ratings in games (exposure to violence, often associated with racist language); substance abuse and ‘revenge porn’
- lifestyle websites, for example pro-anorexia, self-harm or suicide sites
- hate sites
- content validation: how to check authenticity and accuracy of online content.
- cyber-bullying in all forms
- identity theft (including ‘frape’ (hacking Facebook profiles)) and sharing passwords.
- privacy issues, including disclosure of personal information
- digital footprint and online reputation
- health and well-being (amount of time spent online (internet or gaming))
- sexting (sending and receiving of personally intimate images) also referred to as SGII (self-generated indecent images)
- copyright (little care or consideration for intellectual property and ownership – such as music and film).
Just because these environments are online makes them no less susceptible to potential harm compared to the physical world. This makes it vitally important that pupils and staff are fully prepared and supported to use these technologies responsibly.
What research tells us
For many, it is tempting to draft an online safeguarding strategy based on the high profile issues the popular media constantly yell at us. And yet, all of the strategies we usually implement at both home and in school are based on what we know to be true; taken from research and evidence. Whilst there is a lot of research available on a whole raft of online safety subjects, an up to date overview can be found from the following seminal organisations:
- EUKids Onlinewww.eukidsonline.net EU Kids Online is a multinational research network which seeks to enhance knowledge regarding European children’s online opportunities, risks and safety. It employs multiple methods to map children’s and parents’ changing experience of the internet. It also sustains an active dialogue with national and European policy stakeholders. Summary Infographic here
- OFCOM Media Literacy Research Index The report provides detailed evidence on media use, attitudes and understanding among children and young people aged 5-15. For the first time it also provides detailed information about access to, and use of, media among children aged 3-4.
- UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) Research Highlights Summaries The UKCCIS Evidence Group provides UKCCIS with a timely, critical and rigorous account of the relevant research. It includes representatives from academia, government, NGOs and industry, and meets regularly in order to identify, evaluate and commission new research relevant to child internet safety. The Research Highlights Series overviews new findings as they become available.
Changing the culture in school may need to challenge existing beliefs held by staff, parents and young people themselves. Using research to support your argument can be powerful. EUKidsONLINE “10 Online Safety Myths” outlines misconceptions about where real risk lies and can form a good basis for those discussions to begin.
- Digital natives know it all. Only 36 per cent of 9-16-year-olds say it is very true that they know more about the internet than their parents. This myth obscures children’s needs to develop digital skills
- Everyone is creating their own content The study showed that only one in five children had recently used a file-sharing site or created an avatar, half that number wrote a blog. Most children use the internet for ready-made content
- Under 13s can’t use social networking sites Although many sites (including Facebook) say that users must be aged at least 13, the survey shows that age limits don’t work – 38 per cent of 9-12-year-olds have a social networking profile. Some argue age limits should be scrapped to allow greater honesty and protective action
- Everyone watches porn online. One in seven children saw sexual images online in the past year. Even allowing for under-reporting, this myth has been partly created by media hype
- Bullies are baddies The study shows that 60 per cent who bully (online or offline) have themselves been bullied. Bullies and victims are often the same people
- People you meet on the internet are strangers Most online contacts are people children know face-to-face. Nine per cent met offline people they’d first contacted online – most didn’t go alone and only one per cent had a bad experience
- Offline risks migrate online This is not necessarily true. While children who lead risky offline lives are more likely to expose themselves to danger online, it cannot be assumed that those who are low-risk offline are protected while online
- Putting the PC in the living room will help Children find it so easy to go online at a friend’s house or on a smartphone that this advice is out of date. Parents are better advised to talk to their children about their internet habits or join them in some online activity
- Teaching digital skills reduces online risk Actually the more digital skills a child has, the more risks they are likely to encounter as they broaden their online experience. What more skills can do is reduce the potential harm that risks can bring
- Children can get around safety software In fact, fewer than one in three 11-16 year-olds say they can change filter preferences. And most say their parents’ actions to limit their internet activity is helpful.
What we know works
Technology is embedded into the lives of many young people and behaviours are constantly modelled around them by peers, families, teachers and wider society in general. It is the way things are.For schools to be on the sidelines not only marginalises them from the spaces their clients are but misses the point.
E Safety is not the excuse we need for not engaging; it’s the strategy we adopt that allows it to happen.