The IWF recently reported some grave stats about the rise in online child sexual abuse, namely the sharing of self-generated material online. What's devastating is that it's often happening in the family home - and parents are oblivious. Working out how to talk to kids about online safety can be a difficult matter but it's crucial we have the conversation, however uncomfortable. As part of Natterhub's #HaveTheConversation campaign, they have provided some top tips to help broach the subject of online safety with children, both at home and at school. Read on for some practical tips on how to get the conversation started.
Why is it important to talk to kids about online safety?
When thinking about how to talk to kids about online safety, it's important we understand why we need to have these conversations. The positive impact the Internet has brought to the world is undeniable. It has completely transformed our ability to share information and knowledge; improved connectivity and communication; revolutionised business and innovation; and created a global community with many opportunities. But it has also opened the door to harmful behaviour such as online grooming, which can have a devastating impact on children's lives.
Our children are growing up in a digital world - and they want to keep up - so simply denying them access is often counter-intuitive. Banning them from devices doesn't facilitate open and honest conversation and they are more likely to participate behind closed doors. The best way we can protect our kids is to encourage candid discussion about online safety and educate ourselves so we are better placed to empower our children to spot the dangers and mitigate the risks.
What are the 4 Cs of online safety for children?
Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE) is statutory guidance from the Department for Education (DfE) which identifies the 4 C's of online safety risk. These include:
- Content - being exposed to illegal, inappropriate or harmful content, such as pornography, fake news, racism, misogyny, self-harm, suicide, anti-Semitism, radicalisation and extremism.
- Contact - being subjected to harmful online interaction with other users including peer pressure, advertising and online grooming.
- Conduct - the way individuals behave online that may cause harm to others, including sending, receiving or sharing explicit images and cyberbullying.
- Commerce - being exposed to risks such as online gambling, inappropriate advertising, phishing or scams.
Children are unlikely to be equipped with the knowledge or skills they need to navigate these risks - and this is especially true when it comes to dealing with the contact and conduct of those who seek to cause harm. The danger is that children may not realise what is happening, or understand that it is wrong; they may feel under pressure to comply; or they could be scared to tell anyone in case they get into trouble.
With this in mind, online safety learning platform Natterhub, supported by the IWF, have launched an impactful new campaign called #HaveTheConversation, urging everyone to ‘have the conversation before someone else does.’ Its aim is to highlight that need for online safety conversations to happen right now to empower primary-aged children to detect danger in the digital environment and help them to thrive online.
And it's not just parents and carers who need to be having these conversations - Natterhub is also urging schools to think about how they talk to kids about online safety, through an embedded online safety curriculum. With a two-pronged approach, discussions about e-safety become as much a part of a child's every day life, as the devices they are using.
How can we talk about online safety in schools?
Both Ofsted and KCSIE require education settings to deliver online safety education, and it should be a fundamental part of any school's safeguarding and child protection measures - but this can be a challenge for under-resourced and time-strapped teachers. Here are Natterhub's top tips to help schools get the conversation started.
- Create an up-to-date e-safety policy to mitigate the risks and ensure online safety procedures are followed to keep children safe online at school.
- Ensure teachers are equipped with the knowledge to teach children about online safety effectively. Involve them in discussions about how to approach the online safety curriculum to ensure a positive, whole-school approach.
- Rather than seeing online safety as an additional burden on an already heavy workload, plan how e-safety topics can be worked into existing school subjects such as RSHE, computing or citizenship.
- Plan a series of RSHE lessons throughout the year specifically on relationships, sex, health and wellbeing online - discuss how these important topics are as much a part of children's digital lives, as they are offline.
- Plan assemblies themed around online safety - you could ask an online safety expert to come in to talk to children. This could be part of a wider Safer Internet Day when you could incorporate other activities to get conversations happening.
- Start a debate in class about online safety using simple conversation starters like "what's your favourite thing to do on a screen?" or "do you have any games or platforms that make you feel anxious/weird/curious?"
- Update your school's online safety home school agreement to ensure parents and carers are onboard with your approach. You could go through this with your class too.
- Regularly share helpful advice and resources with parents through school newsletters and a dedicated online safety page on your school website.
- Use Natterhub's fun and engaging 'Cybersmart in Seven' resources to kick-start your online safety curriculum. This series of free videos and lesson plans enable time-strapped schools to provide online safety education in just seven minutes per week.
How can we talk about online safety at home?
A whole-school approach that includes school staff, volunteers, governors and school leaders, will have a huge impact on children's online safety education - but of course parents play a crucial role. Online education in school is structured and planned, but conversations between parents and their children can often be difficult and volatile - so it's easy to avoid them. So how do we talk to children about online safety at home? Here are some ideas from Natterhub to get you started:
- Talk regularly with your child and make online safety a part of every day conversation. Remain balanced and calm to make them feel relaxed, as this means they will be more likely to come to you with any worries or concerns.
- Make sure you listen as well as talk - ask open-ended questions to encourage your child to open up and provide them with the opportunity to ask you questions too. Let them say everything they need to before you offer advice.
- Start a conversation about the apps and sites your child is regularly using - but make sure you show a genuine interest. How do they work? Can they show you? What do they like about them? Set ground rules together around how often they will be allowed to use them - and stick to them. Creating a Family Agreement document together, is a great way to do this.
- Get familiar with the parental controls and family setting on all devices - this will help you keep track of the apps and websites your child is using, put restrictions in place, and control how long they can use them for.
- Lay firm ground rules for messaging apps - talk to your child about the friends they chat to and reiterate the rules around asking for permission before they add anyone new. For younger children, it's a good idea to check messages regularly - but be honest and tell them this is what you'll be doing as part of your Family Agreement, and that they will have more independence when they're older.
- Use Natterhub's age-appropriate conversation starters to broach tricky subjects such as sharing self-generated content, and what to do if someone asks you to do something that makes you uncomfortable. Sometimes it is best to not approach a difficult subject directly, but to try a more subtle approach which can lead onto more in-depth discussion.
- Ask your child what online safety discussions they have had at school and use this as a conversation starter at home. It will not only help reinforce what they have learned, but will help you naturally steer the conversation into other areas for discussion.
- Make sure your child knows they will not get into trouble for speaking to you about their concerns, or reporting harmful behaviour they have experienced online. Often one of the main reasons children don't talk to parents about these things is because they think they will get into trouble.
Natterhub is an experiential online safety learning platform that looks and feels just like social media. Its mission is to embed online safety education, through over 350 fun and engaging lessons and resources in line with the DfE National Curriculum, Scottish Curriculum for Excellence and UKCIS 'Education for a Connected World' framework.
Click here for more information about Natterhub's #HaveTheConversation campaign and for access to free resources to help you start these vital conversations at home and at school.
It also features a wealth of Platform Advice and YouTuber information as well as other useful resources for parents, to help them to empower kids to be kind and safe digital citizens.
Thank you for reading our top tips about 'How to Talk to Kids About Online Safety' - now it's time to have the conversation before someone else does.