09 Jan 2015
Last term we asked teachers (via focus groups) about their use of social media in school and discovered that many of them were using specific sites, mainly for inspiration for lesson ideas. While very few primary teachers were using social media sites in class, they admitted that they knew very little about what their children were doing online, either in school or at home. Responsibility tends to lie with parents, though many schools do have some degree of internet safety teaching or guidance.
Teachers seem very unaware of what the dangers of specific sites are, or what age groups should stay away form which sites. Even those who use them in their private lives seem to have little idea about the kind of dangers each site or service presents to children - why would they, unless they have personal experience of something going wrong? Hence, guidance provided to parents tends to be very generic and relies heavily on blanket prohibition or use of parental controls and filtering. It also tends to focus on computer access, even though many children - even at primary level - have smartphones which circumvent these measures. Also, as we know from pretty much all walks of life, prohibition simply makes people want the prohibited item even more.
A much more effective method, over the longer term, for keeping children safe is to educate them about the risks, from as young an age as possible. The problem is that parents and teachers don't know what the risks are - they change all the time. Take Snapchat for example - on the face of a perfectly harmless service - you take pic, add a caption and send it to friends or groups; the pic disappears after a few seconds. Unfortunately this can tempt children to take risqué photos and send them, thinking that they aren't permanent, to friends - but a "friend" can capture the image and do anything they like with it, such as post it websites or tweet the image.
So, how do you keep on top of all the changes? How do you know what sites and services your children should use, given their age? Step forward NSPCC's Share Aware which tells you and your parents all you need to know. They provide ratings, guides, opportunities to share your thoughts and concerns about online use - important since most of us (over forties) feel rather alienated by social media. For example, Share Aware rates YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter all as 13+, so if you are allowing children in your primary school to use these, then you should certainly visit Share Aware.
Just to restate the point though: prohibition is not as effective as education. We recommend that schools don't rush to block these sites, nor recommend parents to do, but to take the time within the curriculum to educate children carefully.
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