Some thoughts on the subject of eSafety  

image - girls with mobile phones

image - young child computing

eSafety is a very emotive subject - particularly among those involved with the welfare of young people both at home and in educational establishments. Everyone has to be aware of the issues but at the same time a sensible and educated approach needs to be taken. For those charged with the welfare of young people, there are sometimes free seminars available on the subject - check for details on the esafety sites provided here and Safer Internet Day 2015. Or, ask your local Authority and/or eSafety Officer.

You can read a useful overview on esafety, presented by the NEN (National Education Network) here.

Also, read an article on esafety here from the The Educational Technology Site: ICT in Education. I would particularly draw your attention to the comments under the question: "As a young person what do you think would be most helpful to protect young people online?"

When we think of esafety, there is an initial tendency to think of teenagers and their ability to access inappropriate material or become involved with potentially careless (and/or dangerous) associations with online strangers. However, we should think of all young people - many children under the age of 11 have access to and use computers on a regular basis, both at home and in school. Whilst very young children may not face quite the same risks as older children - who have more privacy and greater mobility afforded to them - they could nevertheless be upset if they innocently stumble upon, for example, inappropriate images. However, even as responsible adults, we have to face the fact that we can only go so far with protecting young people by blocking online content and if we take this too far we will cause unnecessary resentment and frustration.

From the moment children get onto a computer connected to the Internet, we must begin educating rather than scare mongering. This is best done by monitoring activity by being present with the child in the same room and not leaving him/her alone whilst using the computer. An openness and calm discussion should always be forthcoming if any concerns arise and the child should be encouraged to summon the attention of the parent/carer at any time when uncertainty arises and clarification is called for. One way to begin this process is for the child to be given a simple project - perhaps to create a page of pictures on a favourite subject or create an information sheet on a personal interest. (I can sense the fear in some people already!) Seriously though, parental guidance in a task like this can be very rewarding and give much needed confidence to both parties.

Schools are particularly worried about esafety and rightly concerned about the expectation of parents that their children are in safe hands. However, sometimes situations occur that are not the deliberate or careless fault of the educational establishment and it should be appreciated that on occasion, 'accidents' happen without recourse to exacerbating the situation through overreaction.

I have worked with a number of schools in past years and the instances of computer/Internet related esafety issues have been quite small, given the large population of children attending schools. There have been a few instances of individuals using VLE based email inappropriately, but by and large the teachers have been on the case quickly and resolved the problems effectively. It is worth remembering that anything new gets played and messed with for a few weeks, but sooner or later the novelty wears off and it becomes a normal part of sensible daily activity.

Games Machines and Instant Messaging Services
A situation many parents overlook is that many gaming machines can access the Internet to allow for Instant Messaging (IM) in the same way that messaging services such as Skype and Yahoo can.

Teenagers in particular need to be consciously aware of the safety issues surrounding this easy access to complete strangers. Camaraderie can quickly build up between people when messaging and it is easy to foster an atmosphere of misplaced trust. Of course, you'd be wasting your time telling most teenagers not to use messaging, so instead ask them to be vigilant for any signs that someone is being too interested in personal information. Unless they have already physically met and know the person as a friend e.g. through school, they cannot be certain of what age or sex the person may be, regardless of what they might have been told in the messaging. Furthermore, no person should ever give out personal details of real name, address, email or phone numbers - for txt messaging or voice calls - to anyone over the Internet whom they do not know and trust in physical person.

So long as young people adhere to these basic rules of engagement, they can enjoy their gaming and instant communication safely and parents/carers can also feel more relaxed. Any young person who suspects that something is not quite as it seems should either inform a trusted adult or use the CEOPS site to report a concern. (Information here).

Social Networking - Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
Social networking sites have been a rapidly growing area of Internet activity - particularly, though not exclusively, among young people. All of these sites are set up to encourage users to provide as much information about themselves as possible - their names, activities, locations, interests... and so on. In the excitement of meeting new 'friends', people of all ages can very quickly expose more about themselves than they would really like to in more sober moments. Anyone who places any information, photos, videos, or comments should ask themselves things like:

"Would I let my grandmother see this?"

"Would I want my parents/carers to know about this?"

"Would I want my worst enemy at school to read or see this?"

"Would I want a complete stranger to have this information?"

"If I was in the school canteen, would I openly expose my activity to everyone present?"

The Internet is a fascinating place. We can access the whole world from the safety of our own room at home. It's very easy to feel invulnerable to external activity. We must all be aware of this fact - whether child or adult!

Mobile Phones
Many (if not most) young people have their own mobile phones - capable not only of voice conversations, but also sending text messages, taking photos and videos, sending them as attachments to other people - to their mobile phones or email accounts - or uploading directly to social media sites. As with online eSafety, young people should be encouraged to report any abuse or concerns they have regarding the use of mobile/smart phones or the receipt of unwanted information or images, etc.

Additional links on the subject of eSafety

Camden Grid for Learning - KidSMART e-Safety Web Site

BBC News report 26 April 2013: Schools 'should teach how to view porn', sex forum says.

image - kids computing

image - kids computing