UPDATE FEB 2021 – new DfE guidance ‘Harmful online challenges & hoaxes’
Schools often receive warnings about ‘bad’ apps, sites or games or new dangerous challenges online. Sometimes warnings even come from official sources or with appealing graphics. But should you pass them onto parents? We say…no.
To find out why, use our overview poster to help educate parents or colleagues or for a bit more detail read on (don’t miss the links at foot of page) or watch the video.
It can be useful for professionals to know about specific risks. So why not share them as widely as possible? If an app children use has had a grooming incident, a site seems to promote self-harm or suicide, or a game is full of inappropriate material, surely it makes sense to pass on this information to parents?
This may seem counter-intuitive, especially when you see scary headlines about the perils of the online world, but it’s not always* helpful to name and shame. Not because the information is necessarily wrong, but it’s a complex issue, and there are three key problems with those headline-grabbing warnings. You run the risk of:
So does that mean we don’t have any answers? Not at all. We carry out research to better understand the latest risks and dangers online, sometimes uncovering new ones ourselves, and we work hard to share this information with schools and to give them advice and resources that will help them understand how to manage the risks. What’s more, for the schools on our network, we have all kinds of technology to protect them, and for example where necessary we will move sites into different categories on our filtering to keep staff and pupils safe, too.
What about parents though – are we saying keep them in the dark? Not at all. But bad things happen on good apps (and vice versa). So rather than sharing lists of “dodgy” and “safe” apps, which are often based on headlines, rumours and last year’s scandals**, we say instead focus on helping parents to understand the latest features and functionality of games and apps, and what to look out for when gaming or livestreaming, using virtual reality or whatever the next big thing is that hasn’t been invented yet.
Take livestreaming, for example. It used to be available in only a few apps, but now it’s everywhere, almost as an afterthought sometimes. So don’t try to learn the names of everywhere you can stream, but talk to your child about if they are allowed to do it, and if so how, where and when. What’s allowed? What’s not? Take a look at undressed.lgfl.net for a warning message worth sharing in a non-scary way.
It can feel overwhelming for parents, so try to:
Parentsafe.lgfl.net has all kinds of materials from us and other amazing organisations working in this space to help you work with parents and support their conversations.
So remember, next time you are tempted to share a flashy name and shame warning with parents, stop for a second to ask yourself – is it going to scare or prepare; is it designed for panic or protection? Get in touch and let us know how we can help you do more of the latter.
* We accept that there are some really unsavoury apps run by companies which don’t seem to care about keeping children safe, and at the same time there are others with amazing ‘safety by design’ baked in, plus a commitment to keeping children safe. But the point is, this can change from one day to the next, and keeping up with it is virtually impossible, whereas talking to your child about having fun but staying safe online, plus showing an interest and discussing how to behave and react is altogether more realistic and productive in the long-term, and more likely to keep them safe when bad things happen on good apps.