The coronavirus pandemic has impacted everyone’s daily lives in many ways. From conference calls to home schooling, the use of technology and online platforms has become a greater part of our everyday routines. For schools, this unique situation offers increased challenges and risks to keeping children safe online. Now more than ever, it is important to know how to keep our young people safe whilst they navigate the online world, and how to support parents and care givers to do the same.

In this article we will discuss 3 ways in which teachers and pastoral staff can support parents, children and young people to be safe online. 

1. Know the Risks

Children and young people face numerous risks whilst exploring the online world, however due to the pandemic, the amount of time they now spend online has increased and subsequently the exposure to these risks have increased.

 

Below are some of the risks children and young people are exposed to when online:

 

  • Online abuse: Isolation due to COVID-19 has increased the amount of time children spend online and therefore increased the risk of online abuse.
  • Sexting: Exchange of self-generated material is also to have likely increased, as children are now experiencing most of their social lives only online.
  • Grooming: The increase in the numbers of emotionally vulnerable children poses greater risk for increased grooming. Economic hardship and the inability of perpetrators of abuse to travel due to COVID-19 lockdowns is likely to increase the potential for live streaming abuse in home environments also.
  • Cyberbullying: Children are home learning and communicating with their peers almost exclusively online, which exposes them to more risks of cyberbullying. This may go unnoticed for longer periods of time than normal, as the contact with school and other support mechanisms is restricted. This in turn may mean children may not report cyberbullying quickly or even at all.
  • Sexual exploitation: Greater unsupervised internet use means children are likely to be exposed to greater risk of sexual exploitation online, including sexual coercion, extortion and manipulation.
  • Radicalisation: Online groomers can use the internet, social media, and online gaming to spread extreme ideas. People may attempt to radicalise children and young people by linking their extreme views to the global, national, or individual responses to the Coronavirus pandemic, which could be shown through films, images, and discussions. There are far more opportunities for children and young people to be accessed and influenced in negative ways, due to them spending more time online and on social media.

 

In the first 3 months of the first lockdown

1220

online grooming offences were reported against young people.

-NSPCC, 2020

It is thought that online bullying is one of the biggest child-protection challenges of this generation. 

-NSPCC, 2019

As shown above, the coronavirus pandemic increases the risks young people are exposed to online. Schools need to be aware of these risks along with other safeguarding issues, to be able to effectively support and help children.

 

2. Know How and When to Support Children

There are many ways in which schools can help and support the young people and parents that they work with. When reporting online safety issues, you should continue to follow your schools’ child protection/safeguarding policy for any safeguarding concerns.

Grooming, online sexual abuse and exploitation: If you believe a child in your school is being groomed, abused or exploited online it is important to report this to the police or encourage parents to report this to police, alongside following safeguarding procedures. Children can also report this themselves using the CEOP safety centre. It is important to make young people aware of CEOP and what they do to help and support young people. Embedding the CEOP button on your schools website can be a great tool for children to be able to access this easily. To do this email ceopeducation@nca.gov.uk with your website’s URL to gain access to guidance on how to embed it.

 

Suggested websites and places for teachers to get help and support with online safety:

ThinkUKnow

Find guidance and resources on their website and download their new #OnlineSafetyAtHome activity packs which parents and carers can do at home with their child to raise awareness of online safety.

NSPCC

NSPCC Learning has published guidance on how best to support and protect children and young people whilst they are working online more often. You can also find information on remote teaching and links to online safety resources.

POSH

(Professionals Online Safety Helpline )

You can access advice on any issues related to online safety by contacting the POSH helpline, run by South West Grid for Learning. They have also published advice on remote learning and keeping safe at home.

3. Equip Parents and Carers With Resources

Parents are now in a unique situation whereby they are having to navigate online learning, working from home and having to adapt to new online tools and ways of communicating. As a school, it is important to support parents to keep their children safe online. Tools such as parental controls on devices, parents monitoring what children are accessing online and having open and honest conversations with children about their online activity, can all help with keeping children safe online. Schools may also want to signpost parents to the following sites and resources;

Thinkuknow: Have a parents and carers website with advice on keeping children safe online whilst they are at home. There are also downloadable worksheets and activity packs that you can direct parents towards #OnlineSafetyAtHome activity packs 

Parent Info: For support with key issues that families face during lockdown, parents and carers can access advice on Parent Info, a free newsfeed service run by NCA-CEOP and Parent Zone. You can embed this newsfeed in your organisation’s website for free by registering here.

NSPCC: NSPCC has published advice and support for parents and carers on COVID-19, including tips on talking to children worried about coronavirus, working from home and online safety. Families can access guides to social media platforms, apps and games on the Net Aware website, run by O2 and NSPCC. Child-friendly advice on coronavirus and staying safe is available on the Childline website. Children and young people can still contact Childline counsellors online or by phone, however this service is currently only available from 9am – midnight.

Government website: The government has published guidance for parents and carers on supporting children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing during COVID-19. The UK’s Chief Medical Officer has also provided advice on screen time.

Moving Forward

COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on children and young people for many years to come, not only on their mental health and wellbeing but also on their online behaviours and activity. As a result of the pandemic, schools parents and young people have had to adapt to new ways of communicating and working. When children re-enter classrooms, the amount of time they will be spending online will be reduced to some extent, but the online risks and dangers will always be present any time a child is online. It is important that the whole school community is aware to online risks and committed to ensuring that children are safe when navigating an online world.

-Emma Hill | Children and Young People Project Coordinator (Primary Schools) | Equation 

 

 

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