Parents need help navigating e-safety issues

As technology advances at a dizzyingly rapid pace, its ubiquitous nature can’t help but influence and impact on young people’s lives; however, being part of the digital generation, they have an inherent ability to engage with and embrace new innovations with fervour.

And here lies the problem.

The intrigue and excitement of discovering and being part of a new digital innovation, whether it be a new computer game or social networking website, blinds the child to the possibility that there may be issues or dangers associated with their participation in the new application. Traditionally, it has been the parents or carers of young people who have been the steadying voice of guidance, to take care riding a bicycle on the road or climbing a tall tree; however, with online attractions some parents find it virtually impossible to keep up with and understand the latest game or website their offspring is ‘hooked up’ to and therefore lack the awareness of the very real risks and dangers that their child could be exposing themselves to.

Some parents may feel that, because they happen to use sites such as social media they are fully aware of the dangers; however they may act misguidedly, like the mother in Colorado who, in refusing her daughter’s pestering to be allowed to use social media, used an image of her to demonstrate how quickly something can go viral online. Unfortunately, the stunt back-fired and resulted in the mother receiving abuse, along with messages criticising her for using the image of her daughter as an experiment to prove her point.

Schools, local area learning grid organisations and other educational websites have begun to recognise the problems that parents face with regard to this issue and are steadily putting a variety of measures in place with a view to informing and assisting parents in keeping their children safe online. These measures focus on a broad range of issues such as:

  • recognising the signs if you think child is being cyber-bullied,

  • the need to establish time limits with regard to your child’s online activity,

  • teaching your child about the potential dangers of posting personal details on social networking sites,

  • understanding what ‘sexting’ is and the danger it poses to young people,

  • the importance of checking that the computer games a child is playing, are age-appropriate,

  • how a lack of quality sleep, as a consequence of too much gadget activity, can affect behaviour and impact on a child’s education and achievement,

  • how to use the parental controls that are provided by internet service providers,

  • the issues associated with illegal downloads and file-sharing.
  • There are a number of resources available from E-safety Support that schools can use to boost their communications with parents and therefore provide information and assistance in understanding about social media and new technologies. Resources include online e-safety training for parents.

    In this day and age, it is no longer acceptable for parents to plead ignorance and to simply allow their children to disappear into their bedrooms with their computer, Smartphone or tablet and hope or assume that they are not engaged in any online activity that is either inappropriate or potentially putting themselves or others in danger. In the same way that parents have traditionally guided children in physical world, it is now their responsibility to educate themselves and raise their own awareness regarding the issues and dangers of the virtual world and demonstrate vigilance and provide guidance to their children regarding their online activity and behaviour.

    If you have any hints or tips on how to help parents navigate e-safety issues and would like to share them with other teachers, please let us know by using the comments section below.

    Written by Steve Gresty on May 29, 2014 10:08

    Online Gaming - Muddying the boundaries between the virtual and real worlds

    A few weeks ago an article appeared within my Facebook timeline from an online newspaper I follow. It reported on a young man in Colorado, USA , who was wanted on a drugs charge. He had been chased by the police at high speed and had managed to crash into dozens of other vehicles. He also evaded the police by car-jacking, no less than three other vehicles, one of which was a mother, who was stopped and dragged out of her car whilst the man sped away with her terrified four year old son in the back seat (he was later retrieved frightened and distraught but unharmed when the felon abandoned that car for another).

    As I looked down the many, many comments attached to the posting, I was shocked to read postings such as:

    “Ha, its just like GTA…” or,

    “He’s been playing too much Grand Theft Auto lol!”

    What struck me was the casual nature in which people acknowledged an incident that must have been unbelievably traumatic for the mother of the four year-old and the other victims for that matter, even to the point of thinking that it was something to have a bit of a giggle about.

    As I read further comments of a similar vein, I started to reflect on whether our now daily engagement with technology is impacting our capacity to differentiate between the real and virtual worlds and whether it is encouraging a worrying trend, with some people, towards insensitive voyeurism; an acceptance that everything on the web is provided for entertainment and an inability to sympathise with a victim.

    I then began to consider what impact this phenomena maybe having on young people and this made me think about some experiences I have had in my role as a supply teacher in both primary and secondary schools. Recently, I have noticed how the words ‘rape’ and ‘porn’ appear to have crept into the everyday conversations of young people, even to the point of modifying them with a view to include them in youth culture, as in the word ‘frape’.

    Surely, the ‘normalisation’ of these words into our youth vocabulary is not healthy and is contrary to the nurturing environments that adults should be ensuring exist within school and at home. So, how does this happen?

    This blurring of the boundaries between reality and cyberspace can manifest itself in much more sinister and darker ways too. A year or so back, I was teaching a Y11 resistant materials class who had a double lesson that spanned over dinner time. A couple of the boys returned to school after spending their dinner at a house of one of the group. As they entered the workshop they were laughing and I overheard one them saying “… it was just like on ‘Fallout’ ”. Thinking that they had been playing video games I asked them about it; however, I was shocked to discover that what they had been watching was a real beheading that had been posted on the internet by a terrorist group. What was equally distressing was how they had viewed this horrific scene, coldly disconnecting the fact that this was a real person from the voyeuristic and trivial ‘entertainment’ the video provided for them. They even likened the event to computer games that they had played to the point of interpreting and reconciling the video as just another scene from a computer game.

    As a consequence of the ubiquitous nature of the worldwide web and the type of material that can be accessed, do you think that the real worlds of young people are being dangerously impacted by their cyber worlds? Do you believe that the way in which content is presented such that the difference between the real and the fictional is distinctly vague and blurred, encourages young people to becoming desensitised and numb to real events and situations that, prior to the technological age, would have been genuinely seen as horrific, upsetting or gruesome?

    Or do you believe that the impact of the web is no different to the influence on youth culture of radio and television in the post-war 20th century and it is inevitable that media will affect the language and behaviour of young people?

    To let us know your opinion is on this important topic, please use the comments section below. There are also a number of related lesson plans and assembly plans available from E-safety Support

    Written by Steve Gresty on April 29, 2014 09:15

    Trend spotting at Bett

    Bett ShowDuring last week’s Bett Show, we took the opportunity to take a look at the education trends that were emerging from an e-safety perspective.

    Unsurprisingly, by far the biggest trend is that of using portable devices and Apps to support education and learning. There were over 500 online resources on show along with hundreds of devices including BYOD, tablets, touch-screens, webcams and a host of Apps too – the list goes on.

    With all this access to technology and the Internet, it’s easy to get swept along with the shiny new gadgets and flash Apps to help engage students in and out of the classroom – anything that supports this should of course be encouraged.

    But with all this change in the way we teach and learn it’s vital to remember that e-safety should come as part and parcel of any new technology we choose to use with students. That’s not necessarily to say that new devices should prohibit certain websites for example, but that we should be aware of any potential risks we place in front of students. Does a new App allow users to engage with each-other? If so, do we know who the other users are? Can the activity be monitored? And so on.

    We should always know the pros and cons and make students conscious of them too before integrating new technology into the classroom. That said, there were some great examples on show that combine new technology with good e-safety practice.

    If you have encountered good or bad examples of devices or Apps that you would like to share with fellow teachers, please let us know by using the comment form below.

    Written by Safeguarding Essentials on January 30, 2014 11:40

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