Bede's Welcomes Online Safety Expert Karl Hopwood
On Thursday 11 January, esafety expert Karl Hopwood visited Bede’s Senior School to impart his knowledge on keeping children safe online to parents.
In addition, he spent the day at Bede’s Prep School working with the teachers and pupils to address the challenges posed by modern technology and how to develop safer online behaviour.
Something goes wrong online almost daily. Karl addressed the number of alarming stories we have been bombarded with in 2017 relating to child safety online. Naturally, many parents will want to alter their children’s devices to filter what can be seen, but Karl reminded parents that for every such action, there is a video showing how to un-do any parental attempt at filtration.
It may seem like a daunting challenge trying to keep up with children’s use of technology, and parents may find their children have better technical skills than them. However, they are still children, and young people need advice and protection when it comes to managing their lives online.
The internet is an amazing resource that allows people to connect and communicate and be creative in many ways, so the role of parents must be to help children to get the most out of the internet.
Karl went on to say, “I cannot stress the importance of dialogue enough. Digital literacy now sits alongside reading, writing and mathematics as the fourth pillar of children’s education. Safety online is not about banning but having a conversation to develop safer online behaviour.”
Nowadays there is virtually universal phone ownership by 14-15 years old; 2017 statistics showed that 21% of 3-4 year olds and 52% of 8-11 year olds also own their own tablet. By substituting technology for human interaction at a very young age we are creating problems for ourselves. Sadly the iPotty does exist!
At the Prep School, Karl discussed with the children the pressures young people are under. He asked the questions, how many selfies do teenagers take before they post one online and how many likes do they need to feel happy? The answers are 12 selfies and 48 likes according to studies carried out by the UK Safer Internet Centre. The answers gave by the children at the Prep School were in line with these worrying statistics.
Alarmingly 14% of 10-15 year old girls claim to be unhappy with their lives and 34% are unhappy with their appearance. Interestingly, it is not only celebrities that are making them feel inadequate but also their friends. Karl highlighted the importance of young people remembering that social media only shows the polished, edited highlights of someone’s life.
Cyberbullying and sexting are statistically the most likely to affect children in schools in the UK and Western Europe. Parents worry most about paedophiles, but statistically it is the least likely form of abuse to happen.
Children know what is wrong, and can often be the best at policing the internet for themselves and their friends; however, many fear that if they tell their parents they will be banned: many worry that an adult wouldn’t understand or would react in the wrong way.
Karl went on to explain, “If we confiscate children’s phones too often, it drives them not to tell us. I know it would be my instant reaction to take it all away to protect my children, but it’s not always the right reaction. We need to support them, sometimes children just need to talk.”
Karl went on to explain, “An innocent search can turn bad in just one click, auto play means it is easy for children to stumble upon inappropriate content but it is not their fault and parents need to be there as well. Last year it was reported seemingly innocent Peppa Pig videos were disguised as videos with darker tones which children might find distressing.”
Some children do go looking for inappropriate content; it is human nature. They always have done this, but the kit they have to play with now is very different. Previously, children might have looked up rude words in the dictionary – they still do this in 2018 – but by using a laptop instead they are faced with more extreme content.
Parents tend to react differently to the online scenario, but if children are doing what they’ve always done and what they’re faced with now is more difficult to deal with, then it’s not their fault.
Karl explained, “The same applies to bullying, which has always been dealt with effectively. Cyberbullying adds a new dimension, you can’t close a door on it so there is no respite as you are constantly connected. Online, people tend to say things they wouldn’t say face to face. I am a firm believer in ‘what is unacceptable offline should be unacceptable online’.”
“Children do need to learn to manage technology on their own, but they can’t when they’re 11-12 years old,” Karl explained. Nowadays we are connected 24/7 and technology provides a digital distraction, with some children sleeping with their phones.
He went on to say many parents implement rules such as children have to charge their phones downstairs or no phones at the dinner table. However parents don’t necessarily implement these rules for themselves; it’s not easy, but parents should think about the examples they set, as parents’ use of mobile phones harms family life. Nearly half of children say they have asked their parents to stop checking their mobile devices, whilst fewer than 10% of parents thought their time spent on devices was concerning their children.
The final part of Karl’s talk focused on the risks children are facing aren’t new, the internet didn’t create them it just makes it easier. Karl concluded with this important message, “As parents, you protect your children from all risks offline daily, so protect them online.”