This week, our Sweethaven Education Technical Manager, Martin Byrne, spoke at Sandcross parents evening to address the guiding principles of eSafety.
Here’s what he had to say on protecting your children from risk...
“Hi, I’m Martin Byrne and I head up the Education section at Sweethaven Computers.
Most of you will probably have heard of us, as we have been based in Reigate for just shy of 40 years and we support many of our local schools with their ICT.
Along with my team, we are responsible for looking after the ICT infrastructure here at Sandcross. That involves everything from installing and maintaining the network, servers and wireless, to making sure that your child has a working laptop to use.
I’m here today specifically to talk to you about the ways that you can protect yourself and your children from many of the risks that you find online. There is no 100% effective method, no magic bullet that can give you peace of mind, but hopefully you will leave here feeling a bit more comfortable that you have access to the tools that you need to protect your children.
First of all – I know that everybody here is concerned about their children using the internet. Who wouldn’t be, right? We’ve heard all of the scary stories and statistics about online grooming, pornography, radicalisation, bullying… it’s very easy to get the impression that letting our children use the internet is like letting them play outside with a pack of wolves.
It is definitely true that the internet can be a dangerous place, but it is also very important to realise that it’s changed almost unrecognisably in the last 20 years. I was lucky enough at school to have access to the internet, but apart from sending silly emails to your friends and watching dancing hamsters, there wasn’t a huge amount that we used it for.
Looking at the icons up there (I don’t recognise half of them, by the way!), you’ll probably recognise several social media or networking sites. One of the biggest shifts in the use of the internet, particularly for the so-called “millennials”, has been online collaboration and exchange in the form of social networking.
So – when I was at school, there were some very specific rules about the internet. The first one was “Never give anybody online your real name, or any of your details”. The second one was “Don’t believe that anyone online is actually who they say they are”. Well, of course, they’re probably following rule number one too!
But with social networking, people generally are who they say they are – that’s the whole point of social networking. You connect with your real friends, share your real thoughts and feelings, advertise to people what you like, and upload photos and videos from computers, tablets and mobile devices.
Scary fact - in five 8 – 11 year olds have a social media profile. That jumps to 70% when you look at 12 to 15 year olds. [Source: Ofcom, 2015]
We need to recognise that our children will and do interact on the internet. I’m sure that something else we have a whole consensus on – and the DfE agrees – is that the internet is a core part of children’s learning. It is the defining leap in our generation, a miracle of international co-operation and technological advance spurning the information age. We can’t, and we won’t, stop our children using it.
But we have to realise that there is a whole “second” world that is somewhat alien to us, mysterious. We know how to protect ourselves and our children in the physical world – the school has secure door entry, lockdown procedures, we have the police, we can supervise our children, we know where they are and who they’re with – but the “virtual” world is different.
The trouble is, we can’t always see what is happening online.
Another scary fact - One in three children have been a victim of cyberbullying [Source: The Guardian, 2014]. Whether in actual fact it is that high (there are various studies on this), it is obvious that it happens. It happens in the real world; why would we think it’s not happening in the “virtual” world?
The point of this talk isn’t to scare you. It’s actually to make you feel more comfortable that there are ways to protect your children outside of school from the dangers that are there, and there is a wealth of assistance available to you.
The first and most important step in protecting your children is education and honesty. The school have been, and are doing, a tremendous amount to prepare your children for a digital society.
In school, children are encouraged to air their concerns in an atmosphere of openness. If your child sees something on their computer that they don’t like, rather than feel they’ve done something wrong and think “Quick, close it”, they are encouraged to do the responsible thing and let an adult know, without fear of being chastised.
Secondly, children are asked their thoughts on their safety online. If you tell children, like we were told at school, “DO NOT go onto chat sites. DO NOT tell people your name.” then they will always challenge and ask their favourite question (Why?) The school gives their pupils the same message, but rather asks the question, “What would you do if a stranger came and spoke to you?”, then “What if they did it online?”
My underlining point is – children want to be involved in and understand the rules that are set up for their protection, which is even more important as many of them know more about the internet than us here!
So – given all the education surrounding e-safety, given all the material online, what are the simple, clear things that we can do to protect our children, without putting a leash on them? After all, we teach our children all about stranger danger but that doesn’t mean we leave them at home on their own.
There are so many different ways of accessing the internet, and each with varying degrees of protection. There are risks with any internet connected device, including all of the ones here. We can break down how we manage that risk into three areas: Educate, Prevent and Track. And all rely on first recognising the risk attached.
Educate: We first of all need to educate our children so that they understand the risks, and the reasons behind the rules.
Prevent: We want to use any technological means at our disposal to prevent any harm coming to our children, but not to the point of hindering their learning and development.
Track: We want to be able to see what our children have been doing to be able to intervene if necessary.
Ultimately, you are the best people to decide how you go about protecting your children, and to what degree. There are lots of websites that you can use to help you. The Internet Matters website, in particular, has an interactive guide that will show you in simple step-by-step detail how to set up protection on your devices.
If you require any help at all with the e-safety settings and options, we are here to help. You can even bring in your device to us and we will show you how to enable the parental settings. There are a team of us here on hand tonight to help and to answer any questions about the various protection systems.
Lastly – just to re-iterate – remember, the school are on your side when it comes to protecting your children, and if you have any questions, concerns or suggestions please do speak to the school as they are always here to help.
Thank you, and I hope you feel that help is here.”