Playing the Game

Should head teachers report parents to the authorities who allow their children to play adult-rated video games?

E-safety GamingImagine a conversation:

“Dad, can I play the new video game?”

“No, it’s an 18 certificate game and you’re not 18.”

“Awww Dad, please?”

“No, because if you do and school finds out, they may report me to the police or social services!”

Does this sound crazy? Do schools have a right to ‘interfere’ directly in parent’s decisions that affect their children; after all, they have a duty to protect their students against unsuitable material? Or, is this a step too far? Surely, it is not the place of schools to police the day-to-day activities of the upbringing of children by parents - they are the ones that know their offspring and how mature they are with regard to the content they consume?

This is exactly the nature of a warning that has been issued by the ‘Nantwich Education Partnership’ (a group of 15 primary schools and one secondary school) in Cheshire this week, when the head teachers of the schools found that some children were being allowed to watch and play age-inappropriate games that contained high levels of violence and sexual content.

In a letter to parents, the head teachers have stated that playing these games and also allowing under-age access to social media sites such as ‘Facebook’ and ‘WhatsApp’ could lead to “early sexualised behaviour” and could render children “vulnerable” to grooming for sexual exploitation or extreme violence.

They continued the letter: “If your child is allowed to have inappropriate access to any game or associated product that is designated 18+, we are advised to contact the police and children’s social care as this is deemed neglectful.”

It is true that schools and teachers have a duty with regard to the safeguarding of their students, but is this policy taking that duty too far? Surely, this is a trivial matter that should be left to parents? But consider for a moment how often have you overheard young students in school enthusing over the latest releases of ‘Grand Theft Auto’ or ‘Gears of War’, both of which are certified 18 years and older, and done nothing about it? And yet, if we overheard students talking about frequently watching pornography at home, with their parent’s permission, we might take it more seriously.

A problem occurs here when technophobic parents, who don’t understand the content of games and rightly base their decision not to allow their child access to a particular game on its age-rating; however, peer-pressure then occurs on their child from their classmates, whose parent’s may not be so fastidious when it comes to monitoring the games that their children are playing. This then manifests itself as constant nagging by the child who, over time, wears the parent down until they inevitably, but reluctantly agree to let them play. Is it right that these parents should have a knock on the door from the police or social services?

Schools do find themselves in a difficult predicament. On the one hand, they must be seen by the inspection authorities to have good quality safeguarding policies in place in order to protect their students from unsuitable material; however, on the other hand most head teachers are very reluctant to alienate parents by threatening serious intervention into the family unit with regard to what a lot parents would argue is a fairly trivial matter and nothing to do with schools.

Do you agree with what the head teachers in Cheshire are proposing to do? Do you think that schools should intervene to protect children from inappropriate material? Do you think that this is going too far and schools have no right to interfere in parental decisions? We would love to hear your comments regarding this difficult subject.

You can also take part in a poll on the subject by clicking here.

Written by Steve Gresty on April 01, 2015 13:15

E-safety Review of 2014

Governor Training 8In the final E-safety Support article of the year, we thought it would be an ideal opportunity to look back at some of the major news stories and events that have shaped the world of e-safety during 2014.

In January, the Christmas sales figures reported the huge increase in sales of tablet devises, changing the way many young people interact with the online environment. Unsurprisingly then, the biggest trend on display at the 2014 Bett show was that of implementing these devises into education.

February saw the 11th annual Safer Internet Day. Activities were held across the UK and reached millions. We are of course, looking forward to the event again in 2015. February also saw the fleeting internet craze, Nek-Nominate. This saw many young people taking sometimes fatal risks in order to go one better than their predecessors in this online phenomenon.

In March, a new NSPCC report found that 28% of children aged 11-16 with a profile on a social networking site have experienced something upsetting on it in the last year. In other news, teachers too were once again recognised by unions as needing ‘rules’ for social media usage. However, the positive side of social media was also recognised when the ‘no make-up selfie’ campaign raised millions for charity.

At the beginning of April, Ofsted released their latest inspecting e-safety briefing document containing suggestions for good and outstanding practice in this area. This report was to be later removed from the public domain, although the requirement for a robust e-safety provision in schools was still very much on the Ofsted agenda.

May saw the emergence of ‘Creepshots’, websites that operate like social networking media sites where members are encouraged to post photos that have been taken possibly without consent or knowledge of the person in them. May was also the month when the European Union set a major precedent over what is now referred to as the "right to be forgotten".

Slenderman made an appearance in June, the disturbing Internet creation that is being blamed for a series of near fatal stabbings. In other news in June, Facebook announced plans for a platform for children under 13 to have social networking profile. A report from AGV found that almost 80% of parents blame the Internet for forcing the 'Facts of Life' conversation. It was also suggested that contrary to popular opinion, children's unorthodox spelling and grammar while texting does not stop them learning the rules of formal English.

July saw the launch of Friendly WiFi. Friendly WiFi is the world’s first accreditation scheme designed to verify whether a business’ public Wi-Fi service meets a minimum level of filtering to block out access to pornographic and child abuse websites. This brand new service aims to protect young people when they access the Internet using Wi-Fi hotspots in cafes, restaurants etc.

In August, a study by Oxford University saw the positive side of gaming, suggesting that playing video games for a short period each day could have a small but positive impact on child development. Also in August, Ofcom announced figures which suggested that six-year-olds understand digital technology better than adults.

In September, The Telegraph reported that parents feel more confident talking to their children about notoriously tricky topics like the birds and the bees, puberty and race than they do about how to use the internet safely – and some plan to avoid it, despite admitting its importance. In related news, parents were encouraged to pay more attention to the apps their children download after new research found that nearly a third do not monitor the downloads their children make to their smartphones.

News in October reported that teenagers sending each other sexually explicit messages and images – known as sexting – is increasingly becoming a “normal” part of growing up. However, they were also warned about the risks and potential legal issues surrounding sexting. It was also in October when the leak of images from the popular app Snapchat (which became known as the ‘Snappening’) put the privacy of many young people at risk.

As we reached November, many schools and organisations geared up for Anti-Bullying Week. With more and more children owning mobile devices and spending longer online and on social media, cyber bullying is becoming one of the most common forms of bullying. The annual event organised by the Anti Bullying Alliance saw many activities across the UK.

And finally, in December, the Prime Minister spoke at the #We Protect Children Online summit to commit to tackling online safety. David Cameron revealed details of 3 main strategies to tackle online child exploitation; blocking internet search terms, identifying illegal images and Global child protection and laws.

Looking back, it’s been an eventful year, with the world of e-safety evolving and online trends coming and going in a flash. We expect 2015 to be no different, so will be continuing to support you and your school with up-to-date news and information about the e-safety issues that affect you.

Written by Safeguarding Essentials on December 18, 2014 14:04

A little computer gaming can assist in developing well-adjusted children

GamingIt is a common mantra from adults that “kids spend far too much time playing computer games”, and to the uninformed, killing zombies or driving high-powered cars around fictitious race tracks would seem to offer little contribution to their respective development, indeed some would go so far as to say they have a detrimental impact on young people’s lives and behaviour.

However, a study published in the journal ‘Pediatrics’ by scientists from Oxford University has suggested that engaging with video games for a short period each day could contribute in a small, but positive manner to a child’s development.

A sample group of nearly 5000 young people, half male and half female, aged between 10 and 15 years old, drawn from a representative selection of UK households, were surveyed by experimental psychologist Dr. Andrew Przybylski and questioned about how much time, on average, they spent playing console or computer-based games daily. They were then asked questions focusing on how satisfied they were with their lives, their levels of hyperactivity and inattention, their empathy and the quality of their relationships with their peers.

During the study, 75% of the young people questioned indicated that they engaged in screen-based gaming on a daily basis. Interestingly, the research suggested that those who spent more than half of the daily free time playing games are not well adjusted and hypothesised that the reason for this is that they were less likely to get involved in other enriching activities as well as being exposed to content that is inappropriate, designed, as it were, for adult consumption.

The particularly fascinating result within this study, however, suggests that in comparison to children who are non-players and those who are frequent players, those who play games for less than one-third of their daily free time (usually less than one hour) appeared to possess the most developed abilities to socialise and have less friendship and emotional issues. They also reported less hyperactivity than other groups.

Contrary to popular opinion, fuelled by misinformation in the press, Dr. Przybylski suggested that:

“These results support recent laboratory-based experiments that have identified the downsides to playing electronic games. However, high levels of video game-playing appear to be only weakly linked to children's behavioural problems in the real world.”

It was also his opinion, based on the research, that the small positive effects that were observed for the low levels of game play did not necessarily support the suggestion that screen-based games could, by themselves, somehow, assist children’s development in the increasingly technological world.

In concluding Dr. Przybylski encouraged further research to investigate the particular elements of games that may make them either beneficial or harmful. He also suggested that further study should be carried out within the context of children’s social environments, such as their families, friendship groups and wider community and whether these aspects impact on how gaming experiences influence young people.

In my experience as an educator and a parent, I have found that, like with any pastime or hobby, if a child becomes too obsessed with the narrow focus of a particular interest at the expense of other activities, then it can have a negative impact on their development. Think about any kids in your school who are completely consumed by their interest in football, heavy metal music or even their appearance and, I think you will agree that this can occur with anything. The difference with gaming occurs because they are specifically designed using aggressively engaging principles to draw players in and hold their attention for long periods of time. Applied to young people with susceptible minds, who may use gaming as a means of escaping a dysfunctional family environment or a bullying situation, this, in my opinion, can potentially have a serious detrimental impact on their behaviour and development.

In your experience with young people, do you agree with the results of the study? Do you feel that computer games are harmful or beneficial to young people? Does gaming have a place within the formal education arena? We would love to read your comments so please feel free to share them below.

Written by Steve Gresty on August 07, 2014 11:42

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