There is more to e-safety than simply talking to children - by Ian Skeels of Point2Protect
The current standard advice from experts in the field of e-safety is that talking to children and young people is the best protection against the risks they might encounter online. Whether in school or at home, the argument goes, open conversation helps build confidence and resilience.
At Point2Protect, we agree that good communication between adults and children is an essential part of the process, but there are other pieces of the e-safety jigsaw that schools and parents should be considering.
Schools and parents? Yes, to begin with we start from the premise that e-safety isn't solely the responsibility of schools, or parents, or government, or any other group for that matter. E-safety is a societal issue. We should all care about and seek to mitigate the effects that easy access to violent and extreme content could be having on a generation of children. We believe that schools and parents, working together, can start to create community-wide e-safety strategies.
In the aftermath of any terrible safeguarding event, it's not unusual to hear schools say that they had no way of knowing in advance that a child was at risk. Similarly, parents often blame themselves (or the school) for not knowing what their child had been doing for months in that online world where they had been increasingly spending their time. Schools and parents give children these powerful communication devices - laptops, tablets and smartphones, where anyone can access almost any type of content in moments - yet have little idea how they really use them.
So the first part of Point2Protect's process is simple - Understand. In most other areas of a child's life it's accepted that supervision is essential (they are children, after all), but they're frequently let off into the online playground without even basic supervision. At the very least, a responsible adult should know what search terms those children are using, what web sites they're visiting and what apps they use regularly - and this should be across any network, wherever and whenever the child connects a device. Perhaps there should also be some view of who they are communicating with on a regular basis?
Something as simple as being able to see what search terms they've used, on a laptop in school, on the bus with a smartphone, in their bedroom using a tablet, can give a safeguarding officer or parent a powerful insight into the content they're consuming. Many situations that lead to problems will have started with a search for more information. For the school or parent, this insight can guide the conversation and inform the discussion in a way that wouldn't otherwise be possible.
Of course, this approach also enables moderation of the content that's available to younger children. It's essential to stop young children accessing pornography, gambling, violence and other unsuitable types of web content. And again, these rules must be consistently applied across all their devices, wherever they are used. This is the first part of the Point2Protect service.
Once there's a good understanding of this online world that children inhabit, then it's possible to have far more effective conversations and lessons can be planned to tackle the issues that emerge. So the second part of the Point2Protect process is Engage. We're pleased to have partnered with E-Safety Support to support schools and parents in developing the best possible communication strategies.
The third part of our e-safety process is perhaps the most important - Educate. You can't wrap children in cotton wool all their lives. At some point they'll have full access to everything good and bad that the online world has to offer. How they deal with this - the confidence, awareness and resilience that they have developed - will be based on the quality of the education they've received.
At Point2Protect, we offer interactive educational resources that can be used in school or at home, teaching young people about the risks they may encounter and how to deal with them when they do. These resources complement the assembly and lesson plans which are available from E-safety Support that help teachers delve into the various e-safety issues in the classroom.
This simple three step process - Understand, Engage and Educate - is at the heart of Point2Protect's e-safety service. There's a lot more to it than this, of course, but the fundamental aim is to protect the youngest children using device-based filtering, while helping young people develop mature strategies to deal with the risks they may face.