Isn’t it great to see a positive campaign on internet safety – highlighting the potential as well as the risks and setting the scene on how if everyone plays their part we can make the most of it if we can mitigate the risks for young people (and adults!) – its such a force for good and a great source to make friendships, raise funds, help others, stay in touch and learn about the world and how to do things – there’s a Youtube tutorial on anything you can think of.
Our training arm Basis Training does a lot of preventative workshops in school on online safety and in that guise we make pupils aware of the risks of being online – in the full knowledge that we can’t stop children and young people going online and nor should we try to. The risks are undeniably there: being bullied, being exposed to inappropriate sexualised content being groomed, or some with the most tragic consequences – in particular when online contact leads to contact or has other consequences in real life.
So what do we do about this? Stopping children and young people accessing the internet isn’t the solution either – although filters have their place for ensuring young children don’t access inappropriate content, such as highly sexualised content and/or extreme violence but these are not perfect and children are clever and curious about things – especially about things they are not meant to know about .
A lot of parents say they sign up as a friend on your child’s Facebook account or their email account as a safety measure which is positive in terms of recognising the risk and engaging in conversation although gives a false sense of security. Adjusting privacy settings are equally important although those that want to cause harm are usually extremely good at manipulating children and adults – and its very easy to take conversations offline through other apps or other Facebook accounts where they are not accessible anymore – and more to the point – parents or teachers or other professionals can’t spend their time monitoring their internet activity all the time! Just as we don’t keep our children indoors or follow them around all the time, we can’t keep them offline either.
So- what then? Talk, Educate and Train!
Talk: to young people- as adults, parents, carers, teachers, social workers – as a young person to your friend – whethers its about the risks of sharing pictures online, of meeting people in real life that you’ve only met online, who to go to when you are being bullied or whether its about understanding why you might be uncomfortable watching pornography or how it might affect your relationship.
Educate – There are some great educational resources out there already – including some created by the Safer Internet Day campaign, CEOP and many others including our own resource Is it Normal (engaging young people to talk about accessing pornography).
Train – Talking and educating doesn’t mean the risks will go away completely – even a teacher or parent with the best , open , loving relationship with a child may not be able to prevent this child becoming a victim of online manipulation – however we can learn to spot the signs and know where to get help. As professionals we need to make sure that our staff at every level have the best possible training and support to recognise the signs and provide professional support when a young person, parent or fellow professional raises concerns about a young person. So – lets keep talking , educating and training so that children and young people can see and use the internet for all its wonderful potential and all play our part in keeping it safe.