Child Internet Safety – Six scenarios and solutions

The Child Internet Safety Summit 2014 at Westminster focused on the digital footprint and the dangers to children in both their present and future lives as well as the online safety education focus in schools. To make it easier to understand what parents need to do and know, I have prepared a list of danger scenarios / challenges and simple solutions for parents as I have learnt from the experts at the conference on 3rd July. 

Scenario 1:

Children footprint is wrong. What are the consequences? How do we prevent the damage? How we repair the damage caused by a wrong footprint?

Solution presented by John Carr OBE – UK Government Advisor on Online Child Safety.

‘For some youngsters the consequences of getting their footprint wrong can be catastrophic and long lasting’. Employers trawl the net to look for information about potential employees. Embarrassment might prompt bullying or other forms of danger. Teens need to set up their privacy settings correctly and parents can help them with that.

The Right to be Forgotten is a recent decision of the European Court of Justice which strengthens this position. You have the right to get it all deleted from Facebook but this is not possible if the data are widely distributed throughout the internet and the media.

Tony Anscombe, Senior Security Evangelist at AVG, rightly pointed out that what’s more important is the right to know what has been collected in terms of data and personal information. We need to be extra vigilant as parents and make sure our children are aware from a young age of the dangers hidden online.

I loved this video called ‘A magazine is an iPad that does not work’ showcasing the trend that online users are getting younger and younger.


Scenario 2:

Are children e-safe at school? Do we feel confident as parents that the schools can deal with e-safety and cyberbullying?

child internet safety teacher e-safety image

Following the latest installment of AVG’s Digital Diaries research series – which found parents blaming the internet for having to explain ‘the birds and the bees’ to their children before they reach 10 years old – AVG have conducted further research with the other educators in children’s lives: teachers.

According to the AVG study, the majority (85%) of UK teachers believe internet safety should be taught as a dedicated part of the national curriculum.  With nearly half of teachers (49%) admitting that by the age of 13 years old students will know more about the internet than they do,  some UK teachers are left ‘insufficiently equipped’ when approached by students for advice on internet safety issues.

Although nearly two thirds (63%) of teachers have not been formally trained to teach internet safety, nearly two fifths (38%) admitted being approached by their students with concerns around internet safety issues – cyberbullying (26%) and access to inappropriate content (16%) were the most common issues cited. When approached for advice on varies online safety issues 28% of teachers, on average, felt they were ‘insufficiently equipped’ or ‘not equipped at all’ to handle the issue.

Tony Anscombe said: “From the research it is evident that teachers are feeling the pressure with 86% expressing concern that saying parents rely too much on them (and the school) to teach their children about online safety”.

He continued: “With the next advancement in technology just around the corner schools – and Ofsted – are faced with a difficult task trying to keep up with these developments. With the curriculum in schools updated at a slower rate that technological change, Ofsted need to do more to ensure children are protected from the latest threats as the digital world evolves”.


Scenario 3:

Responsibility for online safety: With the latest research finding that parents and teachers are passing the buck when it comes to teaching children about online safety – are children missing out on the online safety talk?

Parents and students look towards teachers for online safety advice. But according to the AVG research, 80% of teachers feel the burden of teaching e-safety to kids is on their shoulders. It is true that it is in the curriculum but only to re-enforce what the parents should already have taught their children.

A third (33%) of teachers expressed concern that parents of their students do not know enough about IT and online safety.

Nearly 2 in 10 (18%) teachers said that parents have approached them for guidance on how to manage their child’s internet safety – when asked what issues parents needed advise on:

–        55% said how to limit the amount of time their child spends online

–        42% said how to find out what sites their child has visited online

But who is responsible to train the teachers on e-safety? Do they know enough to able to teach the kids?

– Half (50%) of UK teachers agree or strongly agree that their school should provide better training to teachers on using the internet as an education tool.

– 3 in 10 respondents (29%) in the AVG study admitted to rarely or never discussing internet safety skills in the classroom.

– Only 3 in 10 teachers frequently discuss/teach internet safety skills in the classroom.

– A third of teachers (33%) said their school has arranged events to educate parents about online safety.

– Of those 40% said they were very unsatisfied or somewhat unsatisfied with the parent turn out for the session.

Will Gardner, CEO of Childnet International, a children’s charity working with others to help make the internet a great and safe place for children, stressed that parents are crucial in the e-safety education of their children and he called all parents to Participate in Safer Internet Day next on 15 February 2015 because lots of messages from that campaign in 2014 reached children too and not just parents. It’s a free way to contribute and to share the responsibility towards the children. Childnet has built an extensive resource library online including videos and simple instructions on parental control.

My favourite videos are those aimed at children in the shape of cartoons, The Adventures of Kara, Winston and the SMART Crew, which illustrate 5 e-safety SMART rules and include a real life SMART Crew of young people, who guide the cartoon characters in their quest, and help them make safe online decisions.

Here is the first cartoon!


Scenario 4: The impact the new IT curriculum, due to come into effect in September 2014, will have on the skills gap between parents and children. Should parents be concerned?

David Brown, National Lead for ICT at Ofsted, talked about the best practice in e-safety investigations in schools. From April 2014 cyber-bullying and e-safety are included in the key criteria for schools in the school inspection handbook. This measures the schools takes to promote safe use and combat unsafe use. E-safety is rapidly changing and guidelines for schools are updated regularly.

Ofsted key features of good and outstanding practice include:
1) Staff training: all teachers and Teaching Assistants need to be aware if e-safety issues.
2) There should be reporting routines – people need to have the opportunity to report abuse if they want to.
3) E-safety policies.
4) Education – e-safety should be covered in many subjects in an age-related manner.
5) Monitoring and evaluation. 

Scenario 5: Lack of regulation and laws to protect children online from cyber-bullying.


Anthony Smythe, MD of BeatBullying, a tech charity that uses technology as the solution to the problem, talked about the lack of regulations and laws to help institutions, families and schools identify create a safe environment.

In the past before the internet bullies were active only at times and bullying could be stopped more easily but now children can’t escape the bullying as cyber-bullying is active 24/7. It can be very detrimental for children. It can lead to suicides.

Beatbullying is calling for the UK government to produce an anti-bullying strategy and make cyber-bullying a criminal offence and internet regulation on safety.

Parents should support the charity BeatBullying’s campaigns to make changes at high level.

Here is a great advert that shows how people can’t always see the pain caused by bullying, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.


Scenario 6:

Children and young people are no longer making the distinction between online and offline.

There are no filters online that can really stop peer-to-peer abuse. Parents cannot comprehend that the issue of online safety is beyond software and technologies. Parents and teachers need to have those conversations and educate children early on. Children these days live on demand.

On 14th July 2014 there will be a new filter scheme in public places when children access websites via public devices or wifi. This will soon be extended throughout the UK.


My final thoughts

Family 5 Walking Away in Park

Filtering is only part of the problem. Educating children to family values, friendships, ethics are wider issues that are far more important than just e-safety education. Life skills are learnt at home within the family unit and there’s no substitute for learning values from your parents.

Educating kids about internet safety is crucial considering how dominating technology is now. But let’s not forget that children need to spend time being children and that involves active outdoor listing and crafty projects. The essential ingredient is having a family who can guide them throughout their journey in life.

Kids of all ages love that and feel motivated and important when they get involved in family activities (even in a family business).

Plus there’s certainly a connection between increased screen time and child obesity.

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