London Grid for Learning and NSPCC launch UK online safety survey 

Mark Bentley, online safety and safeguarding manager from the London Grid for Learning, talks to QA Education about the NSPCC’s new survey on children’s online activity.

How has children’s online activity changed in the last 24 months since the last survey?

One of the biggest trends we’re seeing is the increased popularity of live streaming. Live streaming allows users to see events unfold literally as they happen, as well as broadcast their own lives for friends to watch. 

Teachers should be aware of apps such as Periscope, Facebook Live and Live.ly, which was released in 2016 by Musical.ly. They are incredibly popular among ever younger children. But there are plenty more, some with a very dubious reputation – but the risk-taking behaviours of young children take place everywhere, as do the behaviours of predators so it’s important not to focus on one app in particular but to look at the risks generally. 

The main worries with live streaming apps are a lack of filtering and monitoring and of course privacy. The other increasing trend we’re seeing is a proliferation of different accounts; young people will use Facebook to communicate with parents, Snapchat to speak with friends and Instagram to post content. 

How does girls’ and boys’ online activity differ and what concerns do you have about this?

This is one area we intend to examine closely through our new survey. 

Generally speaking, boys tend to have a much higher use of gaming apps as opposed to just spending time on social media. 

In the past it’s also been assumed that issues such as body image, caused by the plethora of ‘perfect’ bodies displayed online has been a predominantly female issue. However at LGfL DigiSafe we’re finding this is now an issue increasingly affecting boys as well. Our new survey will allow us to examine girls’ and boys’ behaviour and challenge assumptions such as these, which may be unhelpful.

What can be done to deter underage use of 18+ rated video games? What impact do they have on young children and online safety?

There is a common misconception that the 18+ rating on video games relates to difficulty as opposed to content. However it is important to be aware these ratings have nothing to do with difficulty. 

In the same way that an 18+ rating on a film is inappropriate for young children due to the graphic violence or sexual content, 18+ rated games should never be considered appropriate for young children.

Make sure parents at your school know what Pan European Game Information (PEGI) ratings are. These ratings indicate the minimum ages games are suitable for, with the intention of helping consumers make informed purchasing choices. Some of the most popular games played in our schools today involve sexual violence, which is very worrying material for children to be exposed to. 

How can busy parents monitor children’s use of the web, or make their devices safer to use? 

Internet Matters, a free online safety advice service for parents, provides guidance regarding settings on home networks and devices. They also have a great app to encourage conversations between parents and children on some of the key issues. Changing certain settings on devices owned by younger children and taking a look at the various monitoring solutions available is also recommended.

With older children – where building trust and responsibility is important – it’s crucial to have an open dialogue about online safety, both in general and in case things go wrong, offering clear routes for children to report any issues.

Remember it’s not about knowing what every new app does or blocking the game with the latest scandal in the newspapers. Behaviour is the key, and that is something that all parents should discuss with their child. Predators are happy to skip from one app to another – and do so – therefore banning an app or making a list of safe and unsafe apps is often of little value. 

LGFL and NSPCC online safety teens holding phones

How can policy makers make the web safer for young people?

There is already some great work being undertaken by Government. The new Internet Safety Strategy is a positive step forward as is the work social media companies are doing to make their sites safer for younger users. 

However to really bring about change, policy makers and social media companies need to work together to come up with solutions. It’s important that we recognise children often use apps that are not appropriate in terms of content or age limits. Given this, every single app should be developed with child safety in mind – rather than considered as an afterthought or additional feature. 

Recommendations put forward by organisations like the NSPCC which include using existing algorithms to pick up “grooming language” and flag suspected groomers to moderators are excellent and should be considered by decision makers. 

What are your main concerns, going forward, for the online safety of children?

Whilst the online world offers challenges it’s important that we bear in mind the many amazing opportunities afforded by the new digital era. It’s also important not to underestimate our young people. Safer Internet Centre research revealed recently that four in five young people have stood up for a friend online when others were being mean. How do you think adults would fare in comparison? 

The main thing that we as teachers need to encourage is an awareness of the sites young people are using – if children know the dangers and the ways to protect themselves they are likely to follow them – as always education is key! 

For more information and to sign your school up for the nationwide online safety survey, see pupilsurvey.lgfl.net.  

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