Stay safe, stay connected

Ron Lafferty, Coordinator of Digital Teaching & Learning at ACS Cobham International School, looks at how parents and schools can help their children stay safe and develop healthy friendships online.

School children looks at a laptop
Managing our children’s access to the internet and social media can at times appear a daunting prospect. Children sometimes appear to live online and technology advances at such a fast pace. The advent of 5G and falling mobile data access prices will only exacerbate this.For students attending schools abroad or relocating to new areas, however, the internet and social media offer an unprecedented range of channels which make keeping in touch with friends and families so much easier than it has ever been before.Children are able to have instant chats over messaging apps, as if they were simply sitting next to each other, rather than the other side of the world. We’ve come a long way from the traditional postal pen pals.It’s, therefore, important to ensure that everyone knows how to use these channels to their best advantage: learning how to maximise the benefits and reduce any risk.Ways to do this do, of course, vary across different age groups: for younger students, it is still possible to limit access to their personal devices while at school. With older students, it is more appropriate to make them aware of how to stay safe online by covering e-safety in class and in discussions at home.Here we offer some advice for parents to help ensure their children are using the internet for the right reasons and keeping safe online.

Tips to get started

Discuss when and for how long it is acceptable

Agreeing a set timeframe when all the family is allowed online helps maintain a balance between the online world and the real world around us. Social media may be a great way to keep connected with friends, especially when they are in different countries, but there does need to be a proper balance between time spent online and real life.

How to treat personal information

Be clear on the importance of knowing how to manage personal information, such as name, address, telephone and email. A simple rule for younger children should be that they must not give out their name, phone number or photo without a parent’s approval.Older children using social networking sites such as Facebook and Instagram should be encouraged to be selective about what personal information and photos they post online. It is important that they understand that, regardless of privacy settings, once any material is online they can no longer control who sees it or how it is used. So, teach them to think ahead before posting. Encourage them to ask how they think they will feel about a post in a year’s time, or perhaps when they are applying for a job or college placement.

Identify the risks

Parents should show that they appreciate how the internet can be a positive meeting place for children, a place where they can get to know other young people and make friends. However, in order to avoid potentially unpleasant experiences, it is also important that children understand they must not agree to meet people they have only met online unless accompanied by an adult they trust.It also helps to have an agreed fail-safe plan in place for fledgling friendships, such as calling shortly after any planned get-togethers begin. This gives children an excuse to leave if they feel uncomfortable.Being safe online also extends to how children communicate when gaming, chatting, emailing or messaging. Talking to your children about how they should behave towards others is another way to teach them about using the internet responsibly.

Stay in the know and follow the rules

Having established what online sites are acceptable within your family and how long everyone is allowed to spend online, every effort should be made to stick to the rules. It is also important to be clear why rules might be different for adults.Parents should try to keep pace with advances in the online world such as new sites or ways of using existing platforms. They are also advised to make use of the material available to help them monitor their child’s online behaviour and at ACS Cobham, we regularly run events for parents giving advice on e-safety.These events present an excellent opportunity for parents to ask questions about how they can ensure their children are safe online.It is, in my view, vitally important that parents and schools work together to ensure children understand how to be responsible online.Finally, I would say that articles on online safety by definition highlight negative aspects of online behaviour, but overall, online can be an empowering tool to enhance and make new friends and it is equally important that this is not lost on parents, teachers or children in their drive to keep children safe.Learn more about ACS International Schools
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