In one of the stories about Mullah Nasrudin, an old Persian folk hero, he was looking under a street lamp for the set of keys he’d lost. Some neighbours came to assist.
“Where do you think you lost the keys, Mullah?” one of them asked.
“Over there”, he replied, pointing to some distance away.
“Then why are you looking here?”
“Because it’s dark over there, you fool. I can’t see a thing!”
I sometimes think that approaches to e-safety are a bit like this. For example, you can have the most draconian filtering system you like, but it won’t necessarily keep your children safe. Or at least, not entirely so. It may, however, make you feel that you’re doing something to address the issue!
I’m no legal expert, and I’m not a psychologist, so please don’t take any of this advice as such, but it seems to me that an e-safety policy needs to have several strands to it if it is to be effective. Incidentally, there’s an article about e-safety in relation to 1:1 devices which is fairly specific. This article explores a few broad principles and suggestions.
There does need to be filtering in place. My understanding of UK law is that you have to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of youngsters. To not have a filtering system, ie an automatic means of blocking some types of website, would probably be seen, rightly, as a dereliction of duty.
Unfortunately, a filtering system may be necessary, but is not sufficient. That’s because kids with 3G or 4G devices (which would include some ebook readers as well as mobile phones) can easily circumvent it. So what can you do?
I’d suggest dealing with the issue head-on. Discuss with pupils why some kinds of website, and some kinds of online activity, are simply not acceptable. Discuss what should happen if certain situations arise. If pupils are to be kept safe, they also need to feel safe – and part of ensuring that that happens is for there to be clear rules about what happens when.
The responses by the school do not need to always be punitive. In fact, in certain situations such an approach would be counter-productive, by making pupils too frightened to come forward and report things in case they get into trouble.
I agree with the Byron Report’s view (see http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20100407120701/dcsf.gov.uk/byronreview/ for links). That said that swimming pools are dangerous places for kids, because kids can drown in them. But we don’t ban kids from using swimming pools. We put up warning notices, employ lifeguards and, importantly, teach kids how to swim.
Teaching kids how to ‘swim’ in online space is crucial. For this reason, I think that schools should allow Facebook to be used by pupils and teachers in school. Not only would teachers be able to keep an eye on how their pupils are behaving, they would also be able to exemplify good practice.
If that is a bridge too far, then at least set up a “walled garden” social network where kids can learn how to behave appropriately and where ‘dangerous’ scenarios can be created in a safe environment. You can read about how consultant Dughall McCormick has tackled this with 9 and 10 year-olds in Meet Henri: A Novel Approach to Raising Personal Safety Awareness in the Primary School (see ymlp.com/zKhfFD#henri).
Another issue to think about is blogging. One of the main values of blogging is to receive comments on what you write. If you’re worried about opening this up to the entire world, consider making your pupils’ blogs visible only by parents, and encouraging them to make comments about the children’s posts. Other safe ways of expanding the pupils’ audience is Quadblogging (quadblogging.net/), in which groups of 4 schools take it in turns to comment on each other’s blog posts, and the 100 Word Challenge, in which approved adults respond to children’s efforts (see 100wc.net).
Does your school have a policy about cyber-bullying? Hopefully, the answer is ‘yes’, but writer Nicola Morgan has found that according to some parents, their child’s school does nothing to prevent cyber-bullying. A worrying thought indeed (see www.nicolamorgan.com/heartsong-blog/what-do-schools-do-about-cyber-bullying/).
The other side of the coin is: what do schools do to fortify kids against cyber-bullying? It’s hard enough for adults to handle it when somebody starts attacking them (always anonymously, of course). These people are known as ‘trolls’, and the common advice is: “Don’t feed the trolls”. In other words, don’t give them the attention they crave. There are some links to some interesting takes on this in the article I wrote on the subject of ‘Commenting’: www.ictineducation.org/home-page/2010/1/28/web-20-for-rookies-commenting.html.
To summarise, in my view keeping safe online is akin to learning to ride a bike. We provide safe ways for kids to do this, gradually adapting the equipment available to meet the adult world. We need to provide such a progression in online media spaces as well.
When educating your children about safe use of the internet it’s important to adopt a structured approach, take our free Online Safety Review to get started.