Recently, there has been an increasingly alarming number of reports in the media about children being targeted and groomed online. Pretty much everything our children do now is connected with being online; young people do not differentiate between online and offline life, it is simply ‘their life’. Therefore, we need to educate younger generations toensure they’re able to navigate the internet safely, says Stella James, founder of Gooseberry Planet.
The internet is a wonderful place, full of exciting content and fascinating information, but there are also many risks online. When placed in young children’s hands, the internet can quickly become a dangerous place. With 71 per cent of five-to-six year olds now having a device in their bedroom, and four in ten primary school children owning their own mobile phone, we need to ensure that our children are navigating the internet safely.
However, at present, many children are being left on their own to manage their online behaviour and use of apps and websites. The upshot? Grooming is becoming more and more common, and children are being targeted online. I have been into so many schools lately and heard about several incidences where girls in particular have been groomed on different apps. Why are we allowing our children to manage their own settings, when this leaves them vulnerable to exploitation if they don’t manage the settings correctly?
As the internet and technology are relatively new resources, there are challenges surrounding how we, as adults, teach younger generations how to stay safe while using them. We don’t have the templates to guide us! We spend so much time talking to our children about the physical world, yet this doesn’t seem to apply for online safety.
However, although many teachers – and parents – don’t feel fully informed on the topic, statutory requirements in the Department for Education’s 'Keeping Children Safe in Education' document outlines that teachers must be trained in a variety of safeguarding issues and, as part of this, explicitly educate children about the dangers and how to deal with them appropriately. Therefore, it’s our responsibility to learn about online safety and appropriate behaviour, and then sit with our children and explore the online world together, just like we all sit and read with them.
Learn and understand
Parents, teachers, coaches, leaders or anyone who works with, or has contact with children, needs to start at the very beginning and learn about online behaviours and trends, then seek to have regular discussions about these with children. We need to create open discussions about social media, the use of mobile phones, and online gaming to name but a few, as then we can ensure we know what our children are doing online, and help them to protect themselves while doing so.
Likewise, senior leaders should be embedding regular opportunities for continuing professional development (CPD) across the whole school, giving teachers the skills and knowledge they need to teach today’s children about the digital world appropriately and effectively. And teachers should be proactive at asking for support and guidance if they’re uncertain about aspects of online safety. Today’s children are digital natives and, therefore, often understand technology better than many adults do, so we need to work hard to stay ahead of them in order to help protect them and advise them appropriately.
As a mother of two, I recognised the growing generation gap between my children and me, and knew that I needed to talk to them about potential online dangers including bullying, social networking and sexual exploitation, in order to help them enjoy the internet and navigate it safely. This then made me think about how schools could make learning about online safety fun and engaging for pupils, so in 2015 I founded Gooseberry Planet, a unique software platform for 4-13 year olds that teaches children about various safety issues through gamification. We now have schools across the UK using the resource to deliver a 12-week programme specifically tailored to help teachers deliver online safety lessons.
Just as schools assist parents with reading skills, they also need to assist them with online safety. But, at present, many schools seem to feel that one day’s training a year is adequate. The truth is, the online world is a challenging, ever-changing one and, as such, it is difficult for parents to keep up to speed. But it is part of our children’s lives and we need to engage with it, keep up-to-date and provide children with the knowledge and skills they need. Giving your children knowledge about online risks potentially could save their innocence, or even save their life.
For more information about Gooseberry Planet, visit www.gooseberryplanet.com