Keeping children safe online starts with opening up the channels of communication and actually talking about the issue. To get you started, here are three important questions to keep the conversations flowing.
How has the way you use the internet changed over the past year?
This is such a simple question, but one that I have found to be extremely powerful. I’ve started all my online safety lessons this year with this question and I’ve seen how revealing and provocative it can be.
Getting the discussion going can sometimes take a little prompting, but it’s worth it. Try these follow-up questions:
- Do you use different devices now compared to last year?
- Have your favourite websites or apps changed?
- Have you signed up to any websites since last year?
- Do you play different games?
- What don’t you do anymore?
Some responses were not surprising: “I play more games now”; “I have my own iPad now”; “I go online more now”. However, some answers were quite unexpected, such as “when I’m researching stuff, I don’t just copy and paste anymore” and “I go outside more”.
Other answers were even more revealing and lead to further discussions: “I have my own YouTube account and post my own videos now.” “I get angrier now when I’m gaming.”
That last admission lead onto a big chat about taking a break from technology, reminding ourselves that it’s just a game and keeping some perspective.
This was the real point of my asking the question. We used it as a launch pad to review existing online safety rules and create new ones that were age appropriate and reflected pupils’ current online lives – not their online lives from two years ago. This is a question worth asking at the beginning of every year.
What advice would you give to…?
Sharing scenarios involving fictional children takes the pressure off and gives children the space to be really honest about what they might do in a tricky situation. I find this question gets more discussion than “what would you do if…?” I’ve found that by taking themselves out of the situation and instead offering advice to someone else, pupils are more willing to discuss tricky topics like sharing inappropriate images and the consequences of nude selfies.
Can you describe a time when…?
It’s important to share positive stories as well as talking about the tricky, serious stuff. This question can be a good one to ask children after a lot of discussion and work around a particular topic: can you describe a time when you behaved responsibly online? Can you describe a time when you followed the online safety rules? Equally, if you think the children are in a place to be really reflective, you can ask them to describe a time when they could have handled a situation differently or more effectively – no real names required, of course!
There’s so many ways for young people to trip up online, but having honest discussions is one way to help them navigate their way through situations where there isn’t a clear path to follow.
Claire Lotriet is an assistant headteacher at Henwick Primary School in London. She tweets @OhLottie