Blast off to Gooseberry Planet to keep your child safe online

How can you ensure that your child is safe online? A new app, Gooseberry Planet, is aiming to change the way that online safety is taught in schools, using gaming as an engaging teaching method.

Fly to Gooseberry Planet and keep your child safe online
There is no doubt that the internet has transformed the world that we live in – with seemingly endless content and the ability to network, buy, play games, download music and watch videos, there are no limits to our new ‘connected’ world. Whilst it has opened up a completely new way of doing business, it has also changed the way that we socialise and increasingly raises questions about how we can protect children from unsuitable content and from those who are not what they seem.

Parents left in the dark

A large part of the challenge is that children are often more tech-savvy than their parents. According to The Social Age Study by Knowthenet.org.uk, approximately 59 per cent of children have already used a social media network by the age of ten. This is also the age that the average child gets a smartphone. Parents can be increasingly left in the dark as to what their children are doing online. With concerns over the ease of access of personal information on apps such as Musical.ly and Live.ly, online safety is an increasing problem.“It’s a minefield,” says Stella James, inventor of Gooseberry Planet, a game-playing app designed for schools that teaches children about online safety. “We teach children about stranger danger and crossing the road, but we are not teaching them to be safe online.”Stella JamesWhen Ms James’ eldest son started secondary school, he got his first mobile phone and she began to look online to find resources to teach him about internet safety. After frustration in her attempts, she “sat down one night in September 2013, started scribbling on a scrap of paper – and Gooseberry Planet was born”.

Online safety through game-playing.

Gooseberry Planet is a software platform aimed at children between the ages of four and 13. It aims to teach children about online safety in a fun way through game-playing.“Our aim at Gooseberry Planet is to genuinely educate children about the dangers online. We keep on top of the trends and threats in order to protect as many children as we possibly can,” said Ms James.The child plays on the Gooseberry Planet ‘Student’ app as a character called Taff, who collects stars, family members and items whilst competing against his classmates. In the course of the game, children are exposed to online issues requiring a response, such as meeting strangers, bullying, grooming and sexual exploitation. As the game progresses, the questions gradually get more sinister and suspect individuals try to gain the trust of the player.

Monitoring reactions

Two other apps, Gooseberry Teacher and Gooseberry Parent enable the participation of parents and teachers. The children’s reactions to the situations can therefore be monitored and issues that the game raises can then be discussed with the child. As the programme lasts for 12 sessions (one hour a week), children are able to progress and are more informed about the decisions that they make.Currently, Internet Safety is taught as a small part of the ICT curriculum in schools but Ms James believes that it needs a lot more attention.“The current methods being used – a day once a year, a bit in ICT, are just not enough”, she said.
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Ms James cites lack of parental knowledge as a huge problem,“I was presenting a parent workshop the other day and we were talking about Minecraft. One parent said, “But it's only a game!” This parent didn’t even realise that their child could play with complete strangers.”It is this sharing of personal information that makes children so vulnerable to online grooming. When today’s parents were growing up, ICT in schools was in its infancy. Most parents were taught how to use software packages like Word and PowerPoint but, without the internet, there were no problems with sharing too much information online. However, children today are growing up in a world that is more connected than ever, which makes them incredibly vulnerable. Educating them about what is appropriate is vital for keeping them safe online. If this can be done through game-playing, it reaches children at their level and turns a difficult topic into a game in which children can have fun whilst they are learning.“If this game can save one child from being groomed or sexually exploited, then it has achieved my goal,” said Ms James.Find out more at Gooseberry Planet. For further information about keeping your child safe online, visit NSPCC – Online safetyFor related news and features, visit our Education and Schools section.Access hundreds of global services and suppliers in our Online Directory  Get access to our free Global Mobility Toolkit