Worried about your child’s internet safety? Choosing the right school is part of the education process…
Internet safety is now of such concern that it has its own day. Safer Internet Day (10th February) is an international event promoting ‘safe, responsible and positive use of digital technology for children and young people’ (UK Safer Internet Centre).
The main concern for parents is that no matter how much in control they try to be, or which networks are banned, children are always one step ahead. The fact that even toddlers may try to swipe their fingers across a book to turn its pages gives an understanding of how technologically savvy our youngsters instinctively are. We are dealing with a new generation of ‘digital natives’ …
Clifton College Prep School follows a considered E-Safety Policy and has three staff who are Ambassadors for Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP). The School’s policy is as inclusive as possible and involves discussion with the pupils at age-appropriate levels to make them feel part of the process. Older pupils sign an agreement with stated boundaries to their online behaviour and when things go wrong, this can be used as a supporting document for any action taken.
The educational process for ensuring internet safety is constantly evolving and is regularly addressed in everything from Headmaster’s assemblies to small Tutor Groups.
Clifton College is lucky to have staff who can talk about internet-related issues in a way that children understand, and the Headmaster himself has a good working knowledge of the latest trends in ICT. But the computing curriculum at Clifton College is about more than just technology; it also encompasses important moral issues.
Deputy Head of the Preparatory School, David Pafford, acknowledges that many children are inclined to take risks when presented with an opportunity to do so, and knows from experience that merely banning social media doesn’t work. ‘We have had instances of pupils being asked to hand in their phones’, he says, ‘only to find out that they in fact have multiple devices’.
But if the issues are explained from a moral standpoint, pupils are much less likely to proceed without considering the consequences. ‘We are fortunate to have a Headmaster who is very current in his thinking’, continues Mr Pafford, ‘and this is important when communicating with the pupils’.
Another tactic that works well is regular talks from the police, who are able explain the harsh realities of improper online interaction, whilst at the same time reassuring the pupils that there is support and help available. These sessions involve practical examples of filters that work well, such as K9, and also online games which have proved to be safe but fun, like Minecraft. The idea is to funnel pupils’ online activities into constructive channels, such as the use of computers for game design.
Jean Davies, the Head of ICT, explains that the College has a duty to be proactive, not reactive. ‘In the future we might have to provide every pupil with a mobile device’, she says, ‘as this would be the only way that we could safely monitor their usage. A lot of schools are not aware that they don’t have the right to go through the data [on a child’s confiscated phone, for example], unless there is a suspicion of criminal activity. We also want to provide more staff training and appoint digital Pupil Leaders who can help us be vigilant and constantly improve our processes’.
Some practical ideas about how to keep your child on the digital straight and narrow …
1) Consider the future
Children need to be made aware that the internet is forever: what they post today may well come back to haunt them in years to come, when they are looking for a job, for example... Deleting a post is no guarantee that it has been eliminated. It may have already been shared or posted on another media channel, had a screenshot taken of it, or been downloaded. Asking your children how they would feel if their grandparent or friend saw this photo should help to reiterate the point. Education should also extend to the practical aspects of internet safety, such as using secure passwords and not downloading unknown files.
2) Guard their location
Social media sites that encourage users to ‘check in’ are an example of how a seemingly unimportant action could have dire consequences. When ‘checking in’, they are broadcasting their location to the whole blogosphere. Make sure your children know how to turn off location services on their phones and on platforms like Twitter and Google+. If in doubt, carry out a Google search of your child and see if there is any information there that they might regret sharing with the world.
3) Remind them how public the internet can be
Children are often unaware who can see their communications. There are always stories about this in the media, including the recent case of a teenager being expelled from a Bristol school after posting insults about his Head Teacher on Facebook. Children should be aware, for example, that if they use the hashtag function on Instagram they open themselves to being found by more people, especially companies that use hashtag searches as a means of targeting their sales activity. Another important consideration is the cloud. Because of the way the cloud syncs information automatically, data is visible on multiple devices. Spending time investigating privacy settings could save a lot of heartache later on.
4) Limit children’s device usage time
All devices have parental controls but some are better than others, so carefully research which device to buy your child and how to get the most out of the parental controls. There is also a growing market in phones that are made specifically safe for children, though these are not necessarily the phones your child actually wants! A simple way to limit children’s usage is to prevent them taking their phones and iPads to bed with them at night. Clifton College Prep School communicates this advice regularly to parents and also forbids the use of mobile devices on trips, as this would introduce too many elements that would be uncontrollable in terms of monitoring pupils’ usage.
5) Learn what networks they are using
Efforts to block children from using popular platforms like Facebook and Twitter merely lead to them finding other options you probably haven’t even heard of. If you want to stay up-to-date with their communications, look for crazes. You can talk to teachers and Pastoral Staff at Clifton College to find out more about school fads, while a simple glance at their search history on a computer can also give clues (although there are ways for them to hide this). The fact is that the networks which children use to share and communicate are constantly changing, so this is a never-ending task!
6) Warn children about identity masking
The biggest threat to children online comes from people who conceal their identity. Therefore children should never accept invitations from strangers, just as they wouldn’t in the real world. In addition, accounts that don’t have profile pictures or signs of normal activity should send out warning signs. For instance, if there is an active Instagram user who doesn’t have any of his or her own pictures posted, they are best avoided.
If you are worried about your child’s safety at school, then Clifton College offers the highest levels of Pastoral Care. Contact us today to find out more about our approach to Internet Safety.