Online Safety Facts…or Fallacies?

I recently gave a talk on ten online safety axioms which might not be as effective as we think for keeping children safe. As it seemed to pique some interest, here’s a quick blog version. You will disagree with some; they are supposed to be provocative and make you ‘stop and think’ (see #1 for why that’s ironic).

Watch the video below, or just read on, or to see a shorter video just for the statement you want, click any of the numbered images below.

It’s important to note that there is some truth in all ten statements, but the ‘problem’ is that they represent potentially dangerous simplifications of complex concepts. When we address the same issues with adults, we say it’s too difficult to boil down to a pithy rule, but when it comes to educating children, often we do exactly that. This blog doesn’t give many answers, but lots of questions to think about.

Safe online = ? Locked down / Monitored / Educated / Hand-holding / Blocking / Wrapped in Cotton Wool

First though, it’s important to know what we mean when we talk about staying safe online. Here are six versions of ‘safe’ – how many more can you think of, and which one(s) are we trying to achieve?

Click the image for a brief video explanation

Here’s #1 – a sentence that anyone who has ever given an online-safety talk has probably used (yes, including me; yes, you will find the phrase in our resources now and again; no, I haven’t got an easy alternative – that’s the point). Critical thinking is such an important skill, but it can’t be taught by learning the phrase above. ‘Think’ what? If a teen is about to send a nude image to a boyfriend/girlfriend, the answer to “Do I want to send this?” or “Do I want the other person to see it?” might be “YEEEES”. There is often lots of thinking before clicking, but it doesn’t necessarily lead to wise choices.**

Click the image for a brief video explanation

As with all of these points, you could easily get a blog out of this one (hold on, I did! It’s here). Parents often worry about screen time, and often with good reason…but not always. We don’t talk about food time, we talk about healthy diets; not how long you eat, but how and what. In the same way, time on a screen isn’t time on a screen: are two hours scrolling through other people’s lives on social media the same as a video call with Grandma, research for homework, a times-table game and reading an ebook? Let’s not perpetuate an unhelpful simplification. Check out the blog for more, and screentime.lgfl.net for some handy handouts and guidance (Digital Five a Day, for example).

Click the image for a brief video explanation

No, I haven’t gone mad. Of course it’s good advice (ish), but is it even possible? Look at the screenshots above? As adults we might see a form that asks for too much information but shrug our shoulders and do it anyway. We might see a list of permissions that are unnecessary, but because “I neeeeeed that app,” we install it anyway. Why should children be more grown up about it than we are? Oh, and we haven’t even covered the fact that your Amazon parcel probably won’t turn up if you don’t give your name and home address, and if you lie about your age and give a false name, many social media providers will delete your account. So maybe not such a handy one-liner after all…

Click the image for a brief video explanation

Yes I have used this phrase, and no I can’t think of an alternative expression. This is a great challenge for those of us who create materials for schools. Apologies to those teachers who take a resource but then need to spend half an hour talking about what a trusted adult is. Given that most abusers are known by a child and therefore within the ‘circle of trust’, this is such a key concept. And what about when today’s trusted adult becomes tomorrow’s abuser? It’s no wonder we reach for a handy turn of phrase to sum it up, but it’s never that simple. As ever, critical thinking is…critical (have a look at the Trust Me resource). There’s no easy answer and we need to keep encouraging reporting, but perhaps with more of a focus on telling when something doesn’t feel right (for primary, try video 1 of Jessie & Friends – it’s brilliant). It might not be pleasant, but we may also need to spend more time telling children that sometimes good people do bad things.

Click the image for a brief video explanation

This graphic speaks for itself. The quotes, which come from our online behaviour survey of 40,000 pupils Hopes & Streams, illustrate why this advice might be helpful as part of a wider strategy, but certainly shouldn’t have the word ‘just’ at the start; there is so much more to consider. As with #3 about sharing personal details, this may be a good example of asking children to be digitally resilient where actually we shouldn’t. Instead, we should be protecting them and offering an alternative (or telling industry to do so, which is exactly what the government is working on at the moment with the Online Harms White Paper).

Click the image for a brief video explanation

The quote above came from a focus group we carried out with a group of Year 8 students at a London secondary school. It highlights just how careful we need to be when ‘delivering’ online safety education. The pupils we spoke to could eloquently describe some of the classic rules we are talking about in this blog, and what to do in certain situations. But when the border between online and offline only exists in a lesson, is the theoretical conversation we have with them any use in a situation they don’t even see as online? After all, safeguarding is safeguarding (online and off), safety is safety (ditto), and behaviour is behaviour (ditto ditto).

Click the image for a brief video explanation

Here’s another one which is challenging for providers of online safety resources, not just for teachers at the coalface. On the one hand, just because a resource is brilliant, it doesn’t mean it will be when you endure it for the fifth consecutive year. So teachers be careful, but also let us (and all the other amazing providers of materials for schools) know what areas need more coverage, and we’ll get cracking! But at the same time, we need to address the issues that upset children: many of the topics on the infographic above from our survey might be obvious to children, but not all. No adult guessed that videos being shared of animals being hurt would be one of the things that complained about most. Are we asking them and meeting their needs?

Click the image for a brief video explanation

It is quite understandable why you would give into the temptation to give parents the list of ‘bad apps’ that they often ask for. And it’s understandable why they ask for one. But it’s not a good idea. We wrote a Scare vs Prepare blog on the topic a while ago (read it here; it also includes a video explainer), but in a nutshell, it can create a false sense of security and unnecessary panic, and when there is something really ghastly out there, warnings provide free publicity and generate intrigue. Is the answer to say nothing? No, but to warn about behaviours and risks where necessary, because they can apply on all manner of apps. And just like people, bad things happen on good apps.

Click the image for a brief video explanation

Adults never fritter away time scrolling through cat gifs and end up missing a deadline as a result. Or do they? It’s important to give credit where credit is due: whilst we do need to help children and young people manage their time, and any parent knows from ‘the homework conversation’ how stressful this is, let’s keep talking to them about it but also listen and learn how they manage, and give help where it’s needed. Think that sounds crazy? Then read here about how Snapchatters deal with maintaining a 500-day 75-friend streak record when they need to get out the house, or what they do when it’s exam time. We will always need to play the annoying adult role, but a little more insight may lead to more effective haranguing.

Click the image for a brief video explanation

The amazing Professor Sonia Livingstone from the London School of Economics has spent ten years debunking the term digital native and has written a lot about the term and the concept (she suggests naïve expert is preferable). But the three statistics above from our survey illustrate our final fallacy (surely no question mark needed on this one?) rather well in the words of young people. Not enough children tell anybody about bad stuff online, but when they do, they often choose to tell parent. After all, even though not many have ‘that conversation’ regularly, three quarters of children trust what their parents have to say (naturally only when they want to hear an opinion!). And why is that? Because they recognise that it’s not about the app; it’s about the behaviour! So when we facilitate the myth that anyone is ‘too old to get it’, we are doing ourselves, and our children, a major disservice.

So there we have it – my top ten fallacies, which are of course mainly ‘over simplifications of complex issues with a sprinkling of fact’. But that doesn’t make for quite such a good blog title. Let us know what you think, and which ones have I missed? Tweet us at @LGfLDigiSafe

** Please note that to keep this blog shorter than War & Peace, I can only scratch the surface of each point here so some arguments may appear flaky. I could say much more, and am happy to tell you more on the subject, but why not let them marinade in your mind for a while – you may be surprised what you think in a couple of weeks’ time.

The Prevent duty – top tips and resources to support your whole school approach

We were delighted to be joined by a DfE Prevent lead last week for our very first ever LGfL DigiSafe webinar. You can now listen to the full audio here if you missed out on the day. As promised, I’ve provided a summary below, along with top tips, strategies and the latest resources to support you and your school.

Do bear in mind that with Ofsted focusing on equalities, safeguarding and the curriculum, this requires a holistic approach and is relevant to the whole school community – hence my summary may appear extensive, so do feel free to pick out whichever section is relevant to your role from the list below:

  1. Expectations for schools
  2. British Values – the golden thread in the curriculum:
  3. Teaching Primary pupils about extremism and preparing for transition
  4. Raising awareness through assemblies
  5. Equipping staff to deal with challenging questions or controversial issues
  6. Engaging parents                                        

  1. Expectations for Schools:

As you know, schools have a legal responsibility to “have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”. What’s important to stress is that this is ultimately about safeguarding – protecting a young person from radicalisation is no different from safeguarding them from other forms of harm, such as gangs and child sexual exploitation. And from a safeguarding perspective, we know already that the dynamics and mechanisms around grooming are very similar, as are the vulnerabilities. With that in mind, it is essential to understand the threat to young people, so you can put the necessary preventative measures in place and engage effectively with parents, pupils & staff to ensure transparency and consistency.

2. Fundamental British Values – the Golden Thread in the Curriculum:

Whether we refer to Fundamental British Values or shared values, ultimately, what really matters is the values themselves and how they are embedded in school’s ethos and practices. Rather than teaching this explicitly, these values need to be promoted across the entire curriculum – a golden thread which permeates all aspects of school life. The curriculum provides many creative opportunities for promoting British values, with many schools already demonstrating good practice through subjects such as PSHE, RE, English, and Geography to introduce the concepts of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance. Beyond the curriculum, a holistic approach can develop a strong school ethos to further foster these values – examples of effective practice include having:

  • Student councils to promote pupil participation in a democratic way
  • Circle time to promote critical thinking and opportunities to discuss current affairs
  • International days/visits to places of worship to celebrate cultural awareness
  • Fundraising initiatives to raise awareness and support for global humanitarian issues, e.g. the plight of refugees
  • Peer-mentoring programmes to build resilience, promote respect, social activism and support
  • Debating clubs to discuss local, national and global issues
  • Visits from authorities such as the police and youth justice organisations to reinforce the importance of the rule of law

3. Teaching Primary pupils about extremism and preparing for transition:

Fostering positive values such as tolerance and respect for others will help build resilience to extremist narratives and develop a moral compass – many primary schools will already be doing this. For ideas and examples of effective practice, visit the blog by Twinkl  published in collaboration with Educate against Hate. Several primary schools have incorporated additional strategies or programmes to complement their values centred approach to learning. These include adopting:

I’d like to stress that building resilience to extremist narratives doesn’t have to involve talking about terrorist attacks directly, and it’s important that teachers make a judgement about what is appropriate for their pupils. Many primary school children will however be aware of prominent news events including terrorist attacks, either through social media or their friends and families – so addressing these topics head on can be helpful to provide reassurance and put fears at rest. This could take the form of a circle time activity where pupils are encouraged to talk about their feelings and emotions. To support primary teachers, guidance is available at:

4. Raising Awareness through Assemblies:

Assemblies and collective worship sessions provide ideal opportunities to show how British values are relevant to all your pupils. These can include a series of themes around the building blocks of extremism, e.g. power, fairness, celebrating difference, respect, faith, tolerance and other issues contained within the values concept. There are several key dates that you can plan your assemblies around the school calendar, including:

  • Safer Internet Day – February
  • World Social Media Day – June
  • World Refugee Day – June
  • Anti-bullying Week – November

5. Equipping staff to deal with challenging questions or controversial issues around Prevent:

Independent research from Coventry University has highlighted confidence in having difficult conversations as a key concern for teachers. There are lots of examples of good practice happening in schools, and a key focus for the Department is ensuring that good practice is shared and accessible in order to build teachers’ confidence to having potentially challenging or sensitive discussions – I’d like to point out that you don’t need to be an expert in this area – it’s about being there to listen, providing reassurance to your pupils and knowing who you can signpost to if you don’t have an answer. Your History, RE, Politics and PSHE staff will be able to offer valuable insights and knowledge, along with staff who have experiences or backgrounds from various cultures and interests.

And here are some excellent resources to support you along the way:

6. Promoting critical thinking and building resilience to online radicalisation:

In terms of how the risk manifests itself today, an obvious area of vulnerability is online, with extremists making extensive use of online platforms to incite hate, shape opinion and spread their ideologies. We must therefore assume that anyone could at some point be vulnerable online in the absence of protective factors. Unrestricted access to inaccurate content, misinformation and propaganda, together with the unregulated nature of the internet bring new risks, further exacerbated by the volume of online content available.

Points to consider

  • Research from Ofcom’s findings suggests more young people today prefer watching content on YouTube to TV.
  • Although schools will be providing appropriate monitoring & filtering in line with KCSIE’s statutory guidance, this doesn’t necessarily mean that young people won’t see age inappropriate content through their friends’ devices, Bluetooth or other avenues.

The good news is that as school staff, you are in a unique position to empower all children, across all key stages, to be critical thinkers, both off & online. Circle time, form time discussions and opportunities for debate provide valuable openings to help build resilience through the development of knowledge and support pupils to think critically and independently. Useful resources to build into your assembly and form time include:

  • Trust Me – lesson plans, presentations and guidance from LGfL and Childnet for primary and secondary teachers to start discussions around critical thinking, with a focus on content, contact, and propaganda material
  • fakenews.lgfl.net – cross-curricular activities, lesson plans, quizzes and videos to distinguish between fake and real news
  • IPrevent – guidance, interactive quizzes and case studies to support teachers, pupils and parents around extremism, grooming and cyberbullying
  • Tower Hamlets Prevent resources – lesson plans and activities for to support tutor discussion, assemblies and classroom discussion

7. Engaging parents:

Not all adults share the same use of social media as their children – so we also need to consider how to educate and empower parents and carers. Many schools have found it useful to invite parents to a school safeguarding session, which provides an opportunity to have a stall where you can raise awareness of Prevent as part of the wider safeguarding issues including online safety, FGM and CSE. Coffee mornings and parent evenings are also great opportunities to ask you pupils to present an online safety update, and carry out parent surveys. Remember to update your website with a link to Educate Against Hate which has an excellent section for parents, and you will also find some fantastic resources to signpost parents to at parentsafe.lgfl.net , including how to discuss a terrorist attack with your child.

A reminder that if teachers have a concern, they should follow their normal safeguarding procedures. This will usually involve speaking with their schools’ designated safeguarding lead who may suggest further discussion with the student or their parents. The Department for Education has established a counter-extremism helpline to avoid a situation where teachers feel there is no one willing to act on their concerns. Details are available on the Department for Education’s GOV.UK homepage and on EducateAgainstHate.com. There is also advice on this site about possible signs of radicalisation.

Do feel free to contact us or post a comment if you have any further questions, or would like further information on this topic. Email safeguarding@lgfl.net or follow us @LGfLDigiSafe