Key ways to address online safety

The internet is one of the greatest advances in modern history and one which has the potential to benefit everyone. Young people are fortunate to be growing up in a digital world where the potential for learning and creativity seems endless.

Education has been transformed thanks to the amount of knowledge now easily available at our fingertips. Content has never been more accessible to us, with the ability to stream content through mobile devices and access data via a vast array of interactive applications. Outside of the classroom, the internet connects every corner of the globe and spreads information in such a way that the world seems to be an ever shrinking place, especially for young people who have always known technology to be this advanced. It’s simplified the way we live and work – there’s almost nothing that can’t be bought or sold from the comfort of our living rooms, we can communicate instantly with loved ones around the world and the potential for entertainment is boundless.

However, for all the advantages and benefits that the internet brings, we have to be mindful of the risks it poses and to demonstrate constant vigilance to remain safe. We need to educate each generation to know what threats to be aware of, how to identify them and how to respond to them.

From September 2020 Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) and Health Education will be compulsory subjects for secondary schools in England and guidance from the Department for Education (DfE) has a common theme running through it – we must educate our young people to stay safe online.

What are some of the key dangers that you should be preparing learners for?

  1. Cyberbullying has real world consequences

Cyberbullying is perhaps the most common threat young people will face while using the internet. It can take many forms including sending hurtful messages or posting insulting comments on social media. With 24/7 access to social platforms, it can very difficult for the victim to escape. Cyberbullies can hide behind faceless profiles and never have to witness the real consequences of their actions. It’s important to be aware of the signs of cyberbullying and for young people to know how to report it if they come across it.

  1. Not everyone is who they say they are online

While people may have many legitimate reasons for protecting their identity online, it’s very easy for predatory individuals to pose as someone else online. Social media and popular online gaming sites are often the first point of contact for would-be abusers to befriend young people. Ensure that you warn young people to never meet up with anyone they meet online, especially alone. If they encounter anything that is inappropriate from someone they meet online, they should feel comfortable about reporting this and know who they can turn to for advice. This video from TES describes how to spot the signs of grooming online, please note that this video and the story it describes covers sensitive issues some viewers might find distressing.

  1. Keep your personal information to yourself

A recent survey by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that less than half of children aged between 12 and 15 know how to change their settings so fewer people can view their social media profile. If privacy settings aren’t set correctly, personal profiles may be available for everyone to see, including contact details, location and time tagged images and videos. Everyone should be aware of the importance of not posting personal information or images that reveal too much about them or other people and the consequence of how this information may be used.

  1. Never trust an email

Phishing emails are sent in an attempt to gain access to online accounts, and are often disguised as coming from a legitimate source, stating that your account has been compromised or that bank details need to be updated. Links in the email will not take you to a genuine page; it is an attempt to gain access to login details and access an individual’s personal information. Learners should be taught to exercise caution and only log in to their accounts directly through the official websites and avoid clicking links in emails.

  1. What happens on the internet, stays on the internet

Young people should know that everything they do online is not only next to impossible to delete, but it becomes searchable by anyone. It’s not unknown for prospective universities or potential employers to run background searches on applicants online. Learners should be encouraged to think carefully about their digital footprint and consider the long term implications of their online activity, including the personal opinions they express and the images they share. Even with the most stringent privacy settings activated on social media, there is nothing to stop the people permitted to see it from reposting it themselves. 

  1. Disturbing and graphic material is bad for your mental health

The more active young people become online, the greater the chances are that they’ll come across inappropriate content. There’s a long list of material that is harmful for young people’s development and mental health including:

  • sexually explicit material
  • videos containing excessive violence or attacks
  • sites that encourage eating disorders, self-harm and suicide
  • content that shows human and animal cruelty
  • hate speech in any form eg sexism, racism, homophobia, etc.

Learners should be encouraged to show good judgement in the content they expose themselves to, understand the affects that viewing this material can have on their mental wellbeing and know how to report it.

  1. Not all online challenges are fun

There is a desire among some young people to create viral online content, encouraging others to add their contribution to a popular trend. This has led to the creation and participation in a wide variety of online challenges. While some trends can be fun or can be used to raise money for good causes, there are a lot more dangerous challenges that can lead to harm and potential fatal consequences. Caution and restraint should be demonstrated when deciding what online challenges to participate in and know how to respond to unwanted pressure from peers to take part.

  1. Sexualisation

Young people undeniably feel under pressure because of the content they view online. They are surrounded by images of unrealistic body expectations, particularly on social media (often manipulated images), which can lead them to feeling compelled to conform or pressured to share private images of themselves. The proliferation of freely available pornography provides young people with a misleading representation of sexual behaviour and has the potential to normalise risky practices. We need to support young people in understanding what is representative of real life and what isn’t, the consequences of what they post online and demonstrate good judgement on what to view and interact with online. Read our guest blog from Jan Lever on how to tackle the normalisation of online sexual violence during your RSHE lessons

Relationship, Sex and Health Education

The above topics and more are all covered in greater depth in our suite of qualifications in Relationships, Sex and Health Education (RSHE). The qualifications support secondary schools in the delivery of the new compulsory RSHE curriculum and they’ve been carefully mapped to the full criteria released by the Department for Education (DfE), as well as supporting the Ofsted Education Inspection Framework.

As a partner of the Sex Education Forum the qualifications have been developed with the Sex Education Forum, Jigsaw PSHE and other leading providers including Cambridgeshire PSHE Service and Durex.

For more information on these qualifications or to chat to us about how we can support your PSHE curriculum, including RSHE, in 2020 and beyond, email [email protected].

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