Stranger Danger

If I was to say that I am a 17 year old member of an up-and-coming boy-band who will be possibly performing on ‘X Factor’ next month and that I have trendy blonde hair and like fashionable clothes and music, you would be forgiven for being ever so slightly suspicious that I may not be telling the truth. That is because, being adults, we have learned to question things that we are told by strangers and treat them with a healthy degree of suspicion and scepticism. It is a defence mechanism that we learn in order to reduce gullibility and maintain self-preservation of ourselves and our possessions.

Children and young people, however, have yet to gain these abilities are naturally very trusting and possess a naivety that, unless they have had personal experiences to the contrary, allows them to automatically think the best of people and implicitly believe no harm will come to them at the hands of grown-ups. This innocence is the reason why parents and other responsible adults are constantly warning youngsters of the dangers of talking to strangers.

In the pre-internet age, it used to be easy for adults to protect children against the potential of predatory strangers. As a young child, I lost count how many times my father or mother reiterated to me that I should “never talk to strangers”. As I progressed into my teenage years, however, the temptation to talk to ‘cool-looking’ people increased, coupled with my thought processes along the lines of “…what did my parents know anyway? They were old and definitely not-cool!”

These days, where kids have access to a variety of connected digital devices, it has become more difficult for parents and teachers to monitor young people and ensure that they are not talking to, or befriending inappropriate adults on the internet. This is especially problematic when you take into consideration some of the risky practices that young people engage in on social media such as ‘friend collecting’ - the practice of asking anyone and everyone to become ‘friends’ on ‘Facebook’ etc., in an effort to appear popular.

This can be addressed by educating them about how easy it is for a predatory adult to assume a false identity online in an attempt to become their ‘friend’ and therefore trustworthy. Unfortunately, however, even students who have received lessons on internet safety can still be drawn in by strangers who cleverly use ‘textspeak’ and the ‘slang’ language adopted by young people to ensnare trusting teenagers. Recently, the TES newspaper reported on a study of 785 secondary students that demonstrated that young people regularly make assumptions about the gender of online strangers based on the language they use and the subject matter discussed. The report highlighted that conversations about shopping or boyfriends are often enough for teens to quickly conclude that the online stranger they are conversing with is female, whereas discussions about football, where perhaps swear words are used, usually is enough to prove the online acquaintance is male.

Only last week, there was a heart-breaking report in the media that, only too well, highlights why young people should never go and meet a stranger that they have met online, in person. Breck Bednar was an intelligent, thoughtful and clever 14 year old, who went to meet a man that he had become friends with whilst playing online games. He tricked his parents into believing that he was going for a sleep-over at a friend’s house nearby but, instead, he travelled by train to the home of 19 year old Lewis Daynes. He was later found stabbed to death in Daynes’ flat.

It is worth pointing out that his vigilant mother was aware of and realised that Daynes was trying to control Breck via the internet and highlighted the obvious lies and deceptions to her son, however, he elected to overlook them and go and secretly meet Daynes with tragic consequences.

It is now no longer a reasonable excuse for parents to claim that due to their own technology short-comings, they haven’t got a clue what their child is up to online and who they are talking to. We need to constantly educate, not only children about internet safety, but those responsible for kids, whether they be parents, guardians or teachers about how to monitor young people’s online behaviour. What are the signs of secrecy to look out for, talk to them about internet safety and the reasons for responsible online activity. Parents should pay attention to who their children’s friends are and show interest in any new friends they may talk about and despite the inevitable protestations, be aware of who they are ‘friends’ with on social media and gaming chatrooms and, most importantly, ensure they have set up all of the correct privacy settings on their different online accounts.

If you would like to share your thoughts on this topic, please use the comments section below.

Written by Steve Gresty on December 04, 2014 09:58

Is e-safety still on the Ofsted agenda?

Typing on a computer keyboardJust before the summer break, Ofsted published a new, and rather reduced set of inspection guidelines, which took away a great deal of published guidance about good and outstanding practice across a number of safeguarding areas. It also sparked rumours that e-safety was now largely off the Ofsted inspection radar.

In order to shed some light on the current situation, we turned the E-safety Officer for Kent County Council and regarded contributor to the UK Safer Internet community, Rebecca Avery. She suggests that if anything, there is a renewed focus on the importance of integrating online safety into a school’s wider safeguarding agenda.

Here is just a snapshot of the comments made on the matter in a recent article by Rebecca. Click on the links below to read the article in full.

E-safety within the Ofsted School Inspection Framework
A range of e-safety concerns that schools will need to consider and address are highlighted within Keeping Children Safe in Education under “specific safeguarding concerns” including child sexual exploitation, bullying including cyber bullying, radicalisation and sexting. Schools (specifically leader, managers, governing bodies and proprietors) should therefore ensure that e-safety messages are embedded throughout the school’s curriculum to ensure that pupils are prepared for life in modern Britain and the wider world.

Prior to an inspection Schools can demonstrate that e-safety is an important and established issue as part of their safeguarding responsibilities by ensuring that their school website (and other online communication channels) has up-to-date and appropriate information and guidance for parents/carers and children regarding online safety at school and at home.

During the inspection, inspectors will request that certain information is made available, such as any self-evaluation and the school improvement plan. They may also wish to see incident logs including actions taken as well as identifying a designated person who is responsible for e-safety concerns in the school. The inspectors will also gather evidence from pupils about cyber bullying and online safety education and behaviour in school.

Read more

E-safety within “Inspecting Safeguarding”
The September 2014 safeguarding briefing identifies that schools should be safe environments for children and young people to learn and that inspectors should consider how well leaders and managers create and promote a safe culture within settings which will include vigilance and timely and appropriate action when children may be at risk of harm. Today’s children live in a world where the online environment has become seamlessly embedded into everyday life and this must therefore be acknowledged by schools.

When inspectors are considering and evaluating the effectiveness of safeguarding within schools and settings, many points will include e-safety practice. They may include:

  • Effectiveness of Safeguarding Arrangements

  • Leadership and management

  • Behaviour and Safety

  • E-safety should therefore be embedded throughout school safeguarding practice and be clearly identified as an issue for leaders and mangers to consider and address. Online safety is an essential element schools safeguarding responsibilities and should be considered to be a key priority for all members of staff. The e-safety agenda has shifted towards enabling children to manage risk, rather than filtering/blocking and therefore requires a comprehensive and embedded curriculum which is adapted specifically to the needs and requirements of pupils and the technology with which they are exposed too.

    Read more

    We would love to hear your thoughts and experiences of e-safety inspections in you school – please let us know by using the comments section below.

    Written by Safeguarding Essentials on October 02, 2014 10:12

    Selfies... harmless fun or careless exposure?

    Michael Gove has done it recently, As has David Camreron and Barack Obama...(courting controversy in its wake too)...we're talking 'Selfies' and a staggering 91% of teens are doing it.

    Along with the growing trend, there are accompanying Apps which play up to our insecurities and perpetuate the concept that we need to project the perfect image to the world. The Apps that are most worrying are 'Skinnee pix' and Snapchat.

    Skinnee pix is the most worrying app in terms of young people as it’s designed to shed up to 15 lbs off your image. Justifying the app, the makers claim that photos add an average of 15 lbs to the average person and they are simply just taking away what photos add. However, it's still encouraging teens to see and be curious about what they would look like 'if only' they could lose a stone in weight. Moreover is it reinforcing users to sink deeper into narcissism? After all, it's been proven that women and young girls post more Selfies than males, does this prove that females base their self worth on how attractive they are, opposed to intelligence, personality and skills?

    Snapchat is another growing app, being used by 24% of 8 year olds. This is a service where you send photos and a short message to a recipient and it will only exist for 10 seconds before disappearing into the cyber abyss. The very concept of this being temporary could be argued that it encourages users to be more risqué or push boundaries further as it won't be a permanent record of peoples online behaviour. It also could make cyber bullying far more difficult to prove or track, appealing to young people out there who are tempted to send things for a 'joke' when it is anything but for the recipient.

    Lastly, on the subject of Selfies...if heads of state are able to make errors in judgement about the appropriacy of taking and sharing their Selfies (Nelson Mandela's memorial) then expect our young people to sometimes get it wrong too.

    Good advice to give to young people about selfies

    - Employers can and will check online profiles...always be mindful that photos are a true representation of you as a person. They should depict you in a positive light, incorporating interests and hobbies, loved ones and positive aspects of your life other than the stereotypical 'duck face' pouts and buffed up shots. Think- how do I want a stranger to perceive me?

    - Pictures can tell a thousand lies, as the saying pics are not and should not be a substitute for the real relationships. Don't hide behind your online profile. Meet people and communicate face to face to build confidence and network!

    - Reflect on your need to post a lot of Selfies, ask yourself 'what is my aim?' what do I want to get out of this? ...maybe you need to fulfil yourself in other ways to gain confidence. Think about what maybe lacking in your life?

    - Don't base comments and likes on your self worth and popularity have other qualities other than your looks. It means so much more to get a pat on the back for something you have achieved other than what you were born with.

    If you would like to add your thoughts on this topic, please use the comments section below. You may also be interested in the 'Selfies' lesson plan available to E-safety Support Premium and Premium Plus members

    Written by Vicki Dan on April 17, 2014 17:13

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