Safer Internet Day

08 February 2022

Hello, please introduce yourself to our audience:

Hi I’m Ben and I’m a learning manager at the Raspberry Pi Foundation. I used to be a classroom teacher in the North East of England, but I’ve been at the foundation for three years now. And whilst I’ve been here, I’ve worked on quite a few projects such as writing units of work for the Teach Computing Curriculum, writing online courses, and currently I’m part of the team creating GCSE content for the Isaac Computer Science platform.  

Can you tell us a bit about your experience with internet safety as a teacher?

Yeah, as a teacher of computing, internet safety has pretty much always been part of my teaching. Arguably, I’d say it’s been the area of computing that has evolved the most during my career.

When I started teaching it was always down to the IT teachers to teach lessons about not posting too many personal details on your social media profiles or about making sure your students knew the dangers of meeting someone in the real world that they only knew online.

Now, technology is advancing rapidly and it feels like each time there is a new app, or game, or internet craze, we need to educate young people to help them navigate them in the safest way possible. I think whilst it’s still an important part of a computing teacher’s job to discuss staying safe on the internet, it’s now really important that it’s on the radar of every teacher, particularly those with a pastoral role.

When I worked in the school, I used to view Internet Safety Day as a great opportunity to get people across the school having discussions in assemblies and tutor groups. I actually had a group of digital leaders who ran a couple of campaigns. They created a really powerful video about cyberbullying and also did a creative campaign to raise awareness of online scams. They put up posters around the school with a QR code and a message saying “Scan here for a 1-in-5 chance of winning a PlayStation”. The QR code took people to a website explaining the dangers of online scams and we logged how many hits the page had. Form tutors then discussed it with their classes.

Have you experienced a situation in your classroom where students were pushing the boundaries of being respectful online?

To be honest, it was rare to have it happen in the classroom. Partly, I think, this is because of the measures that are put in place in the room, such as my ability to see all of their screens, as well as the school's firewall blocking websites and tracking inappropriate language.

There were a few instances of students group emailing something inappropriate to others in their class, but we found that the vast majority of instances of students not being respectful online happened outside of school.

The difficulty for teachers is supporting students with these issues when they go from quite rigid controls in school to, in a lot of cases, having free reign over the internet at home.

As a teacher, did you ever face a situation where students were cyberbullying someone in the class or a teacher?

Yes, absolutely, and sadly this was a more common experience. I think the pastoral staff were very used to having to deal with instances of cyberbullying that happened online outside of school, but the problem continues and spills out in the school as well. I think the difficult thing for young people to deal with, compared to when I was that age, is that no matter how difficult things might be at school, you always knew that home was a safe place. Mobile phones can now mean that home is no longer a guaranteed safe place as the bullying can still continue.

Apart from that, on occasion, we had students who would post inappropriate messages about members of staff to their social media. We had one student that I remember who targeted a particular member of staff by going home and making videos about him and posting them to YouTube. Obviously, when these things occur they are very hurtful to the member of staff who is the subject of the attack. It’s also in some cases pretty difficult to get the social media companies to react to these things by taking them offline as often they don’t breach their community guidelines. I think the students who do these things have forgotten or disregarded that members of staff are still human beings who have feelings that can affect them just as much as anyone else.

What steps can parents take to teach their children how to use technology in a positive way?

I’m now in a very fortunate position of being able to know the advice I’d give both as a teacher, and also as a parent. Having recently given my eldest child their first mobile phone, I know from first hand experience how I’m choosing to teach them about using technology in a positive way.

When giving advice to parents, I like to use the analogy of crossing the road. Teaching our children to use technology the right way can be thought about in the same way as crossing a road: it can be dangerous, but if we teach our children properly to look left and right and other such rules, it can be perfectly safe.

For me, I think the key is to have a conversation with your child about the technology before they use it and try to keep an open dialogue about what they use. Not every technology out there should be by default considered bad or dangerous. Conversation starters such as “What kind of things can you do on the app?” and “What’s fun about it?” can easily lead on to healthy discussions and getting them to think about the potential problems for themselves. For example, it might lead to questions such as “Can you talk with anyone, or just your contacts?” or “What kind of things can you share?”

The other piece of advice I’d give parents is to consider when and where you feel comfortable being around technology in the home. Depending on their age, you might consider using parental controls to only allow access to devices between certain hours in the day. You might specify the rooms in your home where devices can be used, i.e. not alone in their bedroom.

Finally, don’t underestimate how much of a role model you are to your children. If you want your child not to look at their device whilst talking to you, or not to have it out at the dinner table, then this is something that parents should consider sticking to as well.

What do you think it is about being online that brings out the worst in some people? Such as the abuse that the English football team faced after their Euro 2020 loss.

It’s a couple of things. In a way there’s similarities between that kind of behaviour and the behaviour of some people when they get road rage. It’s very unusual for someone to shout at another person in the street for doing something we might not like, but when in the safety of your car, many people are happy to flash their lights or beep their horn.

I think it’s that people feel that they have a similar level of safety or anonymity when posting things online. There’s little threat of an immediate consequence. The reality is, however, that everything that is done online is a permanent record of your behaviour. One that is very hard to remove once it’s out there. More so than ever before, this kind of behaviour is being monitored by police forces and by the social media companies themselves, which I hope will become much more of a serious deterrent than has previously been the case.  

The other reason I think is because social media gives people a global voice and can create echo chambers where their opinions can be validated by others who are also being hateful. It’s really sad, but hopefully with more sanctions being put in place by police and social media companies, people might think twice before they hit send on their messages.

What resources would you recommend people go to look at to educate themselves about internet safety?

Luckily, it doesn’t take much more than a quick internet search to find a lot of free, high-quality resources for learning about online safety. Some I recommend are:

ThinkuKnow, which is a website run by CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection) offering advice to different age groups. It includes games, quizzes, and videos.

Mumsnet is a very comprehensive website, giving practical steps to ensure your child is safe online, wherever they are, or however they access the internet.

I really like Internet Matters as it provides an interactive guide on how to set parental settings on a wide range of electronic devices.

Finally, Cybermentors is a UK charity and a community where children can get support and advice from other children, as well as trained professionals – whether they are experiencing problems online or out in the physical world.

Finally, what would you like to see brought in by the UK Government that would help create a safer internet for all?

This is a difficult one as I believe it’s important to live in a world where there is very little censorship and as a society we need to be careful about handing power over to governments to decide what we are and aren’t allowed to see on the internet. That said, as a parent, I think it’s quite alarming how easy it is to come across and access adult websites without there being anything to verify the age of the user. I hope that sooner rather than later that the UK government utilises technological developments to put barriers in place to prevent young people from stumbling upon damaging content such as these websites.