The UK Council for Internet Safety (UKCIS) believes children “have the right to enjoy childhood online, to access safe online spaces, and to benefit from all the opportunities that a connected world can bring to them”. While this statement recognizes the immense value technology can add to the lives of children, it also understands that many online spaces can become unsafe or detrimental. When unkindness spreads online, even spaces with the potential for enriching learning can see a perpetuation of damaging negativity.
There are many ways children can come to understand the risks of online activity, and can be taught skills to interact safely and kindly online. UKCIS has released a framework guiding educators on how further learning can be implemented into their curriculums. Their framework overarchingly points to the importance of being kind online. Healthy online spaces start with kindness, and encouraging kindness can be integrated into classrooms through easy discussions and exercises about being nice to people online.
In order to make the internet a safer place for children, children need to actively participate in making online spaces healthy and positive. Ensuring children understand empathy is the basis for achieving this.
To understand empathy, children can be told to imagine themselves in another person’s shoes. Attempting to understand and recognize another person’s feelings and struggles helps us empathise with them. Considering the feelings of others is the first step to being kinder online, and is the foundation of healthy online spaces.
Natterhub wholeheartedly supports UKCIS’s notion that children have a right to participate in online spaces in a safe manner. Natterhub believes that the only way children will truly learn how to actively practice empathy online is to practice it. In order to make this possible, Natterhub has created a truly safe space where children can practice positive online behaviours, learning online safety skills and practicing empathy. In this environment, students can take ‘Feel It’ lessons, and instructors can acknowledge empathetic and positive comments made by students by ‘boosting’ their post. These are just several ways Natterhub teaches empathy, but there are many ways this essential skill can be incorporated into future classrooms.
There are endless ways for children to learn to encourage kindness online. At Natterhub for example, students can participate in year-specific, interactive lessons which focus on fostering online kindness skills. Should teachers wish to develop online kindness exercises for their classrooms, UKCIS’s framework is organized into strands that address many facets of online safety, and these strands can help shape lesson development in a thoughtful way. In order to encourage online kindness in a comprehensive way, Natterhub has considered UKCIS’s framework and created suggestions for in-classroom exercises that address UKCIS’s strands. By implementing these into the classroom, teachers can educate students on the many facets of being kind online.
Online Relationships: The ‘Picture People’ exercise
UKCIS’s Online Relationships strand discusses “how technology shapes communication”, and develops strategies for fostering respectful relationships online, highlighting the power of positivity. Engaging children in the ‘Picture People’ exercise can help students be more thoughtful and intentional about their Online Relationships.
To practice the ‘Picture People’ exercise, children are encouraged to imagine everyone on the internet as a real person behind a computer screen. Sometimes we get swept into the world of the internet - where communication isn’t face-to-face, so it doesn’t seem like our words have consequences. Imagining an internet user as more than a username helps children understand the reality: that there is a real person with real feelings on the other end of online interactions.
Online Bullying: ‘Face it’
UKCIS’s Online Bullying strand explores the influence technology has on occurrences of bullying. Often, because online interactions seem inconsequential, children feel they can say anything to anyone online. This could encourage instances of bullying, even more so than in person. Teaching children the ‘Face it’ method can help combat this impact of technology.
Face It: There is a real person behind every computer screen. Children should think about how a person would react if they said something hurtful to their face - they would likely appear visibly upset. It’s difficult saying mean things to someone when their hurt is written all over their face. Online, you don’t get to see their reaction, but that doesn’t make it less real or severe. Children should be encouraged to face it - visualize how a person might react if you told them something unkind in person. Understanding the real impact of their words might deter them from saying a hurtful thing in the first place, and help them consider where their words are coming from. Chances are, they’re stemming from hurt, jealousy, anger… all things we don’t want to spread online.
The ‘Face It’ lesson in use: There are many ways teachers can creatively adapt exercises like ‘Face It’ to differing classroom deliveries and teaching styles. For example, Natterhub incorporates the ‘Face It’ message in a ‘Chat It’ lesson - children are encouraged to consider how they communicate in person… involving smiling, waving, eye contact, and welcoming gestures. Children are then asked: “Should this change when we are online?”. This encourages children to both visualize the real people behind computer screens, and to critically consider the nature of their actions and words online.
Health, Wellbeing and Lifestyle: Balancing tech’s ‘Give and Take’
UKCIS’s Health, Wellbeing and Lifestyle strand looks at the potential physical and mental impacts of time spent on technology. Technology impacts mood, physical wellbeing, rest, and lacking in these areas can perpetuate further negativity both online and in person. Encouraging children to balance technology’s ‘Give and Take’ can help deter negative effects of time spent online.
Technology has potential adverse impacts on everyone who uses it. It’s important to educate children on technology’s impact on their wellbeing so that they understand the importance of the online Give and Take. This Give and Take involves acknowledging that technology takes happiness, health, and wellbeing sometimes. So, in order to balance what technology takes, children should strive to give good into online spaces. Rather than inject negativity into online interactions, instructors can encourage children to practice empathy by offering to help a friend, and encouraging confidence rather than diminishing self-esteem.
When it comes to the longstanding impacts of technology on our health and wellbeing, Natterhub believes in the crucial importance of making sure children know they have a trusted adult to turn to. While trusted adults are extremely helpful in ‘one-off’ cases of inappropriate content online, trusted adults are equally important when it comes to long term technology-related issues. Educators should ensure children know that their mental and physical wellbeing should be an open and ongoing conversation. Children shouldn’t wait for a big event to happen online before approaching a trusted adult to discuss how technology use makes them feel. Letting children know this is a welcome and healthy discussion can aid them in understanding the value of being kind online, and how much online interactions can impact lives outside of technology use.
Online Reputation + Self Image & Identity: Being bravely YOU
UKCIS’s Online Reputation strand understands how peers judge others online, and how the formation of a reputation influences internet users. The Self Image & Identity strand investigates how technology impacts self-image and shapes identities. To help children combat the pressure of building an online reputation and help them maintain their self-esteem, teachers can educate children on the importance of being bravely and unapologetically, themselves.
Many children feel they have an online reputation to build or uphold. There are standards defining what is a desirable ‘look’, what is cool, and how people should interact online. Children may even choose to perpetuate negativity online because ‘that’s what everybody is doing’. This pressure of maintaining a reputation can also have negative impacts on self image and self-esteem. Curating posts and fitting an online mold encourages children to hyper analyze themselves - and it’s likely they’ll focus on perceived flaws. It’s important for educators to emphasize letting standards go - teaching children that being themselves makes them cool online. Many educators teach the importance of being kind to others online, but it is equally important to extend this same kindness to ourselves.
Natterhub is a safe space for children to be themselves - celebrating what makes them them. At Natterhub, we encourage children to think about these subjects by participating in anonymous polls with questions like: “Do you feel you can be yourself online?” and “Do you compare yourself to others online?”. Children are also encouraged to post something about themselves that they are proud of, and interact positively with the posts of their classmates. There are many ways teachers can address topics of Online Reputation and Self Image & Identity. Natterhub’s encouragement of children to be thoughtful about Online Reputation and Self Image from within a safe online space is just one avenue educators could take to encourage this type of online thinking.
For more information on how you can raise the profile of media literacy and online kindness in your school and helpful advice please go to:
Advice on platforms, listing risks, privacy settings and other FAQs: https://bit.ly/2VIUUyS
Youth Board air their views on popular YouTubers: https://bit.ly/3iBbx8n
Download FREE report, ‘How children really feel about being online’: https://bit.ly/3CFbUH5
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