A few thoughts on e-Safety from the Headmaster:
OBH children and parents benefited from the wise e-Safety words of Karl Hopwood on Friday evening. While reflecting on the talk last night, I stumbled across the article linked below and at the bottom of the article a reference to a television programme which was scheduled for the evening. Be warned, the content of the article may shock you, but it will be insightful in understanding the experiences our children may go through. I have not yet watched the programme. When I do, I will find it as useful or not, as shocking, or as sensational, as anyone else who may choose to watch it. It will likely be available on a catch-up service.
There has been a noticeable increase in sexualised language in schools over recent years. In my time as a Head, I have had to deal with use of such language ever more frequently, and I have tried to support parents who are desperately searching for answers as to how to help and protect their children. Often the questions relate to whether this is a school issue. The reality is that the school probably doesn’t have a localised problem. Of course, there are schools which are not good, where such behaviour is tolerated, or where leadership is lacking. For most, the reality is that our children are bombarded with material outside of school which is not suitable. This can be due to inadvertent access from material held by older siblings, parents, friends; due to restricted or unrestricted access to social media; access to films which seem to tolerate more violence, language, and sexualised imagery for specific ratings than when I was young; video games created for adults; more and more explicit music and videos; and the platforms for access have increased year-on-year. Quite simply, our children are navigating a minefield that is extended with every passing year.
On Friday, I asked my PSHE classes about their use of social media and the internet. 75% of the children in years 5&6 indicated that they would hide their use of such material from parents. Their reasoning was varied but included fear of being told off, wanting access to platforms that their friends were on, and embarrassment.
The same number indicated that they wanted to experience this aspect of life for themselves and make their own mistakes. Most of these children said they would like to be able to talk to their parents if they discovered something that worried them. By the way, most had viewed content that had worried or scared them. They were surprised that they might be chatting to people online that were not close to them in age. Although they had a vague awareness of the dangers of predators, they generally thought they were too savvy to fall for it. They were especially surprised that some of these ‘people’ online might be avatars or bots that were not humans at all, and simply tools designed to capture data or ensnare susceptible children.
Schools like OBH try to make our environments as safe as we can but we cannot and should not parent your children. It is very much a decision for parents as to what level of access is allowed to social media, or at what age a child is given a mobile phone. I have a view, but it is simply not my call to make, except for with my own children. Neither do I think parents should make decisions collectively. These are individual choices. Therefore, what guidance can I offer?
Firstly, I would encourage parents to visit Karl’s incredibly website: http://www.esafetyltd.co.uk that links to many other useful websites, blogs, and other sources of information that will help you with a small investment of time.
Secondly, talk to your children about the dangers of the digital platforms without talking down to them. It is important that you spend time listening to their need for friendship and inclusion. Do not just advise them. I would particularly suggest helping your children to make their own decisions with the aid of your longer-term knowledge of the potential dangers. It was interesting that some of the comments from children included themes such as “I try to talk to my parents, but they are always looking at their phone”, or suggestions that parents were too naive about social media to really be able to help. As a parent, mea culpa for the former. I spend too long reading and answering emails when I should be spending time talking to my children.
Thirdly, as far as you can (and it’s probably not very far!), keep up-to-date and aware of the latest dangers, trends, and fads. The BBC’s Click programme on the News Channel is a pretty good weekly summary. It does not focus on e-Safety per se, but it does show how the world is moving on. Be aware of privacy settings at whole-house level (routers and service provider settings), platform (device or app) level, and your child’s level (awareness and ability to self-police).
Finally, repetitively, and most importantly, maintain open communication with your children. The worst thing that can happen is that your child has an experience that frightens them, worries them, or concerns them, but they do not share those feelings with you because of a past experience of a hostile reaction, or because you simply pull the plug. If that happens, they will be left to navigate the minefield on their own. My sense is that we shouldn’t be ahead of them, or next to them, as they make their journey, but we should scan ahead, suggest a route from one step behind, and be ready to catch and treat them if they react to a blast.
A final thought on the world our children are growing up in. For anyone like me who is over 40, our experiences of shared youth with friends are probably remembered through outdoor games when young, and then listening to music with friends when older. For me that was listening to rock music in the late 1980s and early 1990s and trying to be the next Richie Sambora or Eddie Vedder (don’t worry if you don’t know!) For most of our children, their shared experience will be on Minecraft, Instagram, or Discord. They will not reminisce when they see a vinyl sleeve of Slippery When Wet. They might when they see a porcine shaped series of pink blocks. I am not sure that we can really stop that being the case, or that we should.
If we can maintain communication, have some understanding of the perils, limit content that we know is damaging, educate our children about the threats as we do for drugs or sex, we will certainly be doing our best to help them.
I don’t know if the programme that is highlighted at the end of the link will be any good, but it might be worth a watch.