The Internet is a daily part of children's lives. It has become fully integrated into their social and educational world. As parents and educators we cannot shut it out, but rather always be available to have credible, open and honest conversations with young people about the content they are consuming, the contacts they are making and also the ways they are conducting themselves online.
As more of us work from home, juggling home schooling in the background, it can be all too easy to leave children unsupervised on their devices. The NSPCC advises us to work as a 'TEAM': Talk, Explore, Agree and Manage.
We recently ran a session on online safety at GeoScool. The students enjoyed playing this game, which raised important questions and sparked discussion around how trusting they were sharing information with strangers on SnapChat, TikTok and Instagram.
As founder of GeoVLE, I am also mum to three children aged 7, 8 and 10. They have access to Kindles, which are linked to my Amazon account with parent controls and timers in place. They use their devices on long car trips and in family areas or in earshot of where I am tutoring. Despite this I was shocked when my 8 year old told me she had regularly seen hate speech and things that ‘make me upset’ online. All the while I was convinced watching slime videos and art tutorials on TikTok and YouTube were harmless. Turns out, not so much. We explored the social media platforms she had been accessing with the help of NetAware and, although she was only connected to friends from her school and family, she came to her own conclusion that it was probably not good for her to have TikTok on her Kindle and she decided to delete it. We agreed that YouTube Kids would still allow her access to her favourite art and slime videos and not have her obsessing so much over what everyone else thought of her art by being able to comment on her posts.
At GeoScool one 12 year old student said, “I use SnapChat too much... when you add someone you can chat to them and then delete it. There's no evidence so you can bully, which can lead to self harm."
Tutor: "Have you seen evidence of that?"
"Yes, my friend was bullied and got hate online. There's 'quick add' so you can add random people around the world, based on age and location. I've got friends on my snapmap all around the world.. I know some of them...
Another student was really surprised when looking at the risks on the apps they regularly use according to NetAware:
"None of the apps are green! If they turned bullying down to medium then self harm would go green-ish.. because bullying leads to self harm, which leads to drinks and drugs, which leads to risks and violence, so they are all linked."
GeoScoolers' top tips (in their own words) to other children:
"We just need to be kinder to each other and then the apps wouldn't be so bad"
"if you cure one, start with bullying, and cure that and then everything would go to green."
"only allow your friends and report bullying."
"don't believe everything you see. If someone sends you a picture of a person pretending to be them, it might be an older person trying to get you to meet them, so don't believe everything you see."
"if you have the conversations often with nice teachers then you are aware and it's less likely people will get hurt. ”
As a parent, school teacher and online tutor, my 5 top tips are:
Bookmark NetAware: find out the risks involved in all current social media platforms and games.
Talk to your children calmly and work on TEAM: Talk, Explore, Agree, Manage NSPCC: Have a conversation Talk with your child – sounds easy, right? Trying to convince your child you are not ‘spying’ on them may be a challenge at first, especially for older ones, but if this is approached calmly, together, you can Explore what you feel is reasonable, Agree upon what access they will have and come to a decision of how this can be Managed in terms of time allowed each day. Allowing you child to have ownership in these decisions is the key – don’t TELL them – they will just do it any way!
CEOP: In all of our group classes we encourage and support students to be able to explore and discuss issues that are important to them in a safe and inclusive environment. All our sessions are recorded for training and safeguarding purposes. Our website and online learning platform have embedded CEOP buttons where students can report abuse. Our GeoScoolers decided the best place for the button to go was on the left side at the bottom of the page - so this is where you’ll now find it! You can also read more about using the button here. Information & Reporting Help for Parents
Take note of the PEGI ratings. Pan European Game Information - PEGI: What do the labels mean? ‘The PEGI system is based on six age categories and eight content descriptors. The age categories indicate whether an interactive software product is appropriate for children from a certain age. The age categories are: 3, 7, 12, 16, 18 and 'Parental Guidance Recommended' (which is used for certain apps)’
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