Enabling e-Safety

We live in a world of risk; from an early age we are taught to assess risk so that it becomes a life-skill rather than something we have to think about consciously, such as crossing the road, talking to strangers, or learning to drive in different road conditions.  e-Safety is a subject where the risks are all too often blamed on the technology, but whilst technology can sometimes enhance risk, it is not the technology that is the issue. Risk is almost always a consequence of two things:

  • A consequence of not knowing
  • A consequence of knowing, but deliberately taking the risk.

Children, young people and adults will always take risks. Children and young people in particular will often push the boundaries of risk; this is a natural part of growing up and learning.

Invariably e-safety is seen as a showstopper; that there are so many risks, schools can be afraid to innovate with their use of technology and parents are afraid of their child’s use of technology. This simply isn’t the case; e-safety is an enabler! E-Safety is a process of raising awareness and education in order that risk can be identified and mitigated, that children and adults can be empowered with the right information and processes in order to enjoy technology, safely.

 e-Safety at Home and at School

There are two different contexts to consider: home and school.

Home – children will often have unrestricted access to the Internet using a range of different technologies from mobile phones to gaming platforms. This is one of the biggest areas to tackle. Whilst schools will have safeguarding technology (such as filtering) and policies in place to mitigate some issues (such as access to inappropriate/illegal material), this is not always the case at home.

I sometimes explain this as the Narnia effect. If you have ever read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe you will know what I mean. The doors of a bedroom wardrobe are opened and a new world of the weird and the wonderful can be explored – without the parents knowing.

School – schools have an incredibly difficult job. Technology is a fundamental part of life and children need to learn how to use technology appropriately as a life skill. For example, social media now plays a pivotal role both in personal and business life, therefore you could argue that children should be taught about the safe and appropriate use of social networking from an early age. This isn’t how to use social networking, but using social media in a range of educational/curriculum subjects in order to educate and empower positive, safe-use messages. In this example the children will learn risk awareness and good netiquette.

One thing I often hear is that you have to be over the age of 13 to use social media. There are two things to consider here. First, you don’t have to be signing up for Twitter and Facebook accounts, there are other ways to tackle this. Second, children are using social media, and whether that is right or wrong we have a moral duty to ensure that they are safe and risk free. You can’t fulfil that moral duty by pretending it isn’t happening.

Of course, schools have to understand and mitigate against their own liability. This is the consequence of doing something through not knowing, or not doing something which potentially puts a child (or member of staff) at risk.  So how do we begin to tackle these different issues?

From the school perspective there are 3 different areas:

  • Policy – clear, robust and effective policy in place. The school e-safety policy deals with the boundaries of appropriate and inappropriate use of technology at school. There are processes in place that all members of staff are aware of in order to deal with different types of incidents. (You can download a model policy with guidance HERE).
  • Technology – this isn’t the technology that is used in school, but the technology that could be used as a tool for safeguarding. For example, managed Internet filtering appropriate to the age of the user, and behaviour management software that detects violations on the school network whether the Internet is being used or not.
  • Safe Use – the most important perspective; clear, positive, safe-use messages to empower all users with the knowledge to stay safe, risk free and to enjoy technology.

From the home perspective, if the positive safe use messages are being tackled at school, then much of the risk dissipates at home as children are being educated. But what about the parents?

One thing I hear almost daily is, “my son/daughter knows more about computers than I do.” Whilst misleading, that statement is quite understandable. It comes back to a consequence of not knowing. Let me put that another way, when I’m driving I’m not interested in the internal workings of a 4-stroke combustion engine, but I am interested in how the steering, acceleration and brakes work.  Therefore it is incumbent on parents to understand what their children are doing on the Internet at home, and to make a parental decision whether mitigation needs to be put in place or not. This mitigation takes the form of things such as: filtering and monitoring; security and privacy settings on devices; enabling safe-search on search engines such as Google and much more.

Advice for Parents on Managing Risk

But there is one fundamental principle, and the advice I always give to parents is this: you cannot fight risk with technology. Technology (such as monitoring/filtering) is one small tool in a large toolbox.

Communicate – you talk to your children about their life outside the home, you know who their friends are, where they live. You know where they normally hang out and, to a point, what they are doing. There is no difference in the online world. Talk to your children about what they do, who they speak to, and what they enjoy doing. Let them know that you are always there if they see or hear something which causes a concern.

Trust – be honest, you took risks when you were younger, you may have pushed the boundaries at times but you learned from them. Your children are no different.

Communication and trust are fundamental to many aspects of parenting; e-safety is no different.