Young students using tablets at school

Child Safety Week – Why a holistic approach is needed to effectively safeguard children online

In today’s climate of ‘always on’ social media, school children are becoming immersed in a 24/7 digital world. And while there’s no doubt that the internet and social media platforms are wonderful forums for learning, as well as connecting people, they can also bring inherent dangers.

A new study by Ofcom has found that almost 80 per cent of children said they had a “potentially harmful online experience” in the past year. In fact, one in four reported to have been cyberbullied, while a fifth had experienced trolling.

This Child Safety Week, Adele Abbiss, Online Safety Expert at Smoothwall, discusses how implementing digital monitoring and filtering solutions across a school or college can help to protect the safety and wellbeing of students, and why these methods can work so effectively as part of a wider, more holistic approach to effectively safeguard children online.

Identifying those at risk

With an ever-rising safeguarding risk being posed by digital technology, it’s essential that schools are equipped with the tools to act fast, efficiently and in the best interest of pupils. Our Smoothwall research uncovered that 98% of teachers rely on their pupils to tell them if they are being bullied online, yet only 5% of children admit they would confide in a teacher if they were subject to this. This is where effective monitoring solutions can be used as an important bridge when it comes to identifying students who may be at harm online – allowing schools to provide more effective support.

It has been proven that if a student is exposed to harmful and inappropriate material or experiences online, it can result in a dramatic change in behaviour that often causes wider disruption in the classroom. However, with so few pupils turning to teachers in their time of need, identifying the root cause of the problem can be a challenge.

This is where digital monitoring comes in. Through effective filtering and monitoring tools, software providers can not only prevent children and young people from accessing potentially harmful material in the first place, but can actually monitor their keystrokes, search terms and phrases and capture anything typed in that may indicate the child is at risk.

Indicators that a student is at harm can be picked up in real time if they have used their keyboard or screen in any way to view, message or type out their feelings – even if the message was never sent or the document was never saved. This can bring to light any concerns that may be affecting students, including cyberbullying, depression, grooming, radicalisation, gang involvement, and knife crime to name just a few.

Any digital behaviour which is then considered to be of concern will flag to an appropriate safeguarding officer and allows for the child to be provided with the necessary support to ensure their welfare before it’s too late.

A holistic approach

While social media companies hold some responsibility for the content we view, and the way it’s shown to us through algorithms, the responsibility to safeguard children should not fall solely on the shoulders of these firms. In fact, just like we take our responsibilities as a safeguarding solution for children online seriously, so do many other organisations such as the government, councils, schools, technology providers and parents.

With so many different people involved in the protection of children both on and offline, it is essential that we are all communicating holistically to ensure we are all working in a way that is supportive of each other in our mission to stamp out as much harmful content as possible.

It is this focus on a collective responsibility when it comes to child safety that we value strongly here at Smoothwall, and something we feel is integral to the wellbeing of children online both now and in the future. By working with partners and agreeing as a collective what constitutes harmful behaviour and the ways in which to address this, from preventing the offensive content from the outset, to educating young people on how to be responsible digital citizens, and providing children the necessary skills to be able to navigate the internet safely, this Child Safety Week we can all help to protect young people.

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