How to help keep children safe online - Stephanie Moriarty
E-safety has never been more topical. Children are now spending a lot more of their day online and in front of a screen as they find themselves working from home and mixing with friends in an online capacity rather than face-to-face at school. As professionals in social care, we must ensure that we have a deep understanding of what e-safety means and how children can be safeguarded against online harms on a daily basis.
What is e-safety?
E-safety refers to the act of staying safe online – something that is especially important when it comes to children or vulnerable people spending time online. Having an e-safety policy or plan in place ensures that we, as professionals, are protecting children from harmful content, services and even exploitation. A lot of teaching in the current climate has been moved to online platforms, exposing children to the internet on a more regular basis. Technology is now a necessity for children to ensure they can still access their education and work independently whilst in the third national lockdown in England (Internet Matters, 2021). Educating ourselves about e-safety is increasingly important to understand some of the risks associated with the internet, and some of the strategies we can use to reduce these potential risks to children.
E-safety can cover many situations where children are exposed to technology, including social media, devices that children use and even the material they access whilst online. Recent statistics show that 43% of 10-11 year olds have a social media account of some form, when the suitable age for these sites is 13+ (Ofcom, 2019). If younger children are needing social media to socialise or learn, the risks become more apparent when considering what they may be accessing and the age suitability of videos or links they may be exposed to. Inappropriate content can be filtered on social media accounts, but it cannot be removed completely so the risks are very real
What kind of inappropriate content might be out there?
Inappropriate content that can be found online either through choice or error, includes items that might be racist, violent, extremist or harmful in many other ways., (Get Safe Online, 2021). This kind of content can be damaging for children and can influence their behaviour or lead to curiosity that may expose them to more harmful content. Likewise, when children become a little older and need to conduct online research to support their homework tasks, the ease of working with them to understand these online risks may become harder. Ofcom (2019) reported that 50% of parents of 5-15 year olds were concerned about the kind of content their children might see that could encourage them to hurt themselves, for example. It can become more problematic to ensure children are visiting age appropriate websites that host appropriate content for their viewing (Get Safe Online, 2021) as they become older and are more adept at navigating the web. In relation to younger children, 55% of 3-4-year-olds use a tablet daily to access apps and sites such as Youtube to watch videos (Ofcom, 2019). It has been identified that on average, 3 to 4-year-olds spend over 6 hours online a week, with Youtube being their favoured app to spend time on(Get Safe Online, 2021). One of the concerns associated with this is that anyone can upload videos to Youtube and can title and categorise them themselves – creating a risk for harmful content to be labelled inaccurately and found by unsuspecting users. Youtube also has an inbuilt system that can be activated to play one video directly after another if it relates to the content previously watched. The potential danger with this inbuilt system is that, because a video can be categorised or titled inappropriately, there is the potential for harmful content to automatically play after a child’s previously watched programme. One strategy to overcome this potential issue is to use the children’s version of Youtube where age appropriate content is shared rather than potentially dangerous videos. This ensures that children aren’t exposed to content that they should not be viewing and reduces the risk associated with this.
While inappropriate content is a huge concern for children, it isn’t the only danger that children can face when using online platforms. Stranger danger is widely spoken about, and in person, is something we educate children about freely. However, in the context of online platforms, stranger danger can become quite a tricky topic to navigate. Ofcom (2019) noted that 9 in 10 children aged 5-15 use a device to access the internet daily. These devices are varied, and can include gaming consoles, smart phones, tablets, laptops or smart TV’s. When there are so many different devices for children to use to access the internet, the number of parental controls required can be quite daunting to set up.
However, there is a potential issue of children talking to others online that they feel they know, but who have the potential to groom or manipulate children (Get Safe Online, 2021). Likewise, children may unknowingly share their personal details online to someone they think is a friend, but who may be someone else entirely. Sharing personal details online can expose a child to real danger that can take place not only in the virtual world, but in the physical world as well. Likewise, there are phishing scams that regularly occur online which can lead to another person gaining your personal details such as your bank details which may be stored online (Get Safe Online, 2021). Oglethorpe (2020) argues that children need to be educated about some of the potential risks and dangers of talking to others online, stating that children should be taught to recognise the behaviours of others, signs and indicators of predatory strangers. The most important strategy to support children in this kind of situation is through open and honest conversations. Educating children about these potential risks and how to respond is crucial to ensure that children are aware of their options. Social media and games alike will include a blocking feature; whereby individual users can be blocked from the child’s view to prevent further interaction. Educating and talking to children about this feature is important to ensure they are aware of this and that this is something they can use freely if they were ever to feel unsafe online. By talking to children openly and honestly, a trusting relationship can be formed where a child will feel more confident to share information with you in the future – this could be a real lifeline.
Children using devices to communicate with others also become more vulnerable to cyber-bullying. One in five children admit that they have been bullied online, and one in ten children say they have bullied someone else online (Paddick, 2015). Bullying can have detrimental and long-lasting implications for a child’s health and wellbeing and can lead to a child being withdrawn. Unlike playground bullying, a child can not necessarily escape cyberbullying when they leave the school, as this can occur on a range of platforms for the child (NSPCC, 2021). There are various strategies that can be used to address cyber bullying, again including blocking and reporting undesired behaviour online and encouraging children to think about their own behaviour and how this can affect others.
Educating children on the potential implications of their online behaviour is so important to protect their wellbeing. Sometimes we can become a little guilty of applying the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ notion with technology – assuming that, because they are accessing a virtual world, that they can’t get into too much trouble. However, this article shows just a handful of the potential dangers that children can be faced with online.
There are always strategies that can be used to support children in dealing with these risks, but first you must educate yourself to understand some of these issues and how to respond with them. For more information on what E-safety looks like, we have a short online course that you can access. This course will give you an understanding of how to keep yourself safe online and the actions you can take to make better digital choices. By understanding your own digital footprint and how you can keep yourself safe online, you can then begin to understand strategies you can apply to keep children in your care safe too. The course is available at: [email protected]//www/cachealumni.org.uk/Public/Professional-Development/E-Learning/Public/Professional-Development/E-Learning.aspx?hkey=ccb70767-481a-40f4-aa38-bcc5e1f68cfe.
Get Safe Online, (2021). Safeguarding Children. [online] Get Safe Online. Available at: https://www.getsafeonline.org/safeguarding-children/ [Accessed 12 January 2021]
Internet Matters, (2021). Online Safety Advice. [online] Internet Matters. Available at: https://www.internetmatters.org/advice/6-10/#related [Accessed 12 January 2021]
NSPCC, (2021). Bullying and Cyberbullying. [online] Available at: https://www.nspcc.org.uk/what-is-child-abuse/types-of-abuse/bullying-and-cyberbullying/ [Accessed 12 January 2021]
Ofcom, (2019). Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report. [online] Available at: https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0023/190616/children-media-use-attitudes-2019-report.pdf [Accessed 12 January 2021]
Oglethorpe, (2020). Teaching Stranger Danger in a Digital World. [online] Available at: https://themodernparent.net/teaching-stranger-danger-in-a-digital-world/ [Accessed 12 January 2021]
Paddick, (2015). Kids at Risk Of Online Stranger Danger. [online] Education Technology. Available at: https://edtechnology.co.uk/latest-news/online-stranger-danger/ [Accessed 12 January 2021]