Author: Alan Mackenzie, e-safety adviser

Given that online safety is predominantly a safeguarding matter, we tend to concentrate a lot of effort on risks such as child sexual exploitation and abuse, bullying, sexualisation of children and young people, and radicalisation.

It’s quite right we do this, and we should continue to tackle these areas where harm can be significant. But we also know there are far more risks than those four important ones; the sheer number of risks is huge. If you think about risks in the real world, [[READ_MORE]] there’s very little that doesn’t come with an element of risk, and that’s true from an online perspective as well.

What we know…

In 2008, Professor Tanya Byron prepared a report for the Government, Safer Children in a Digital World.

Although a few years ago, this was, for many, a landmark study that really pushed online safety to the fore – and therein lies a really important point: this landmark study is only eight years old and CEOP (the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre) is only 10 years old. The point being, we’re still very much in our infancy in truly understanding risks and behaviour in an online context.
 
There was a lot of detail in the report which still stands the test of time today. In particular, there were a couple of standout statements in the report’s Foreward:
 

  • Firstly: ‘As adults we instinctively know how to protect our children offline, we often assume that their greater technological expertise will ensure they can look after themselves online, but knowledge is not the same as wisdom.’
     
  • Secondly: ‘The review [was] about the needs of children and young people. It [was] about about preserving their right to take the risks that form an inherent part of their development by enabling them to play video games and surf the internet in a safe and informed way.’

 
Let’s briefly consider those two statements. 
 
You may have heard the phrase ‘digital immigrants and digital natives’.  This was a phrase coined by a man called Marc Prensky in 2001 and it’s often taken out of context, describing children and young people who are born into an age where technology is an integral part of life – and therefore digital natives, whereas adults are somehow playing catch up, so we’re the digital immigrants.  It’s quite often used to imply that children are more ‘tech savvy’ than adults. To a degree, that might be the case but it gives a false impression of what is sometimes called a ‘digital divide’.  But is there really a digital divide, or do we just use technology differently?

Knowing how to use technology and knowing how to explore the opportunities that technology gives us in a safe and appropriate way are two very different things. How many times have you heard stories about two-year-olds that are amazing with technology because they can swipe their finger across an iPad screen? Tech savvy or simply learned behaviour? That same child can swipe the page in a book, but that doesn’t mean they will understand the words or context.
 
Children are naturally curious: they want to explore; they may take risks; they learn how things work quickly through exploration.  This is one of the reasons we use technology such as internet filters at home and services such as NetSupport DNA at school – not only to protect them from content-based risks such as inappropriate websites, images etc. but also natural curiosity.
 
The second statement was, ‘preserving the rights of children to take risks that form an inherent part of their development’, and this is a key statement. 
 
In order to grow up, children must be allowed to take risks (within an appropriately managed environment), because ultimately this builds risk awareness, knowledge, understanding, experience and, importantly, resilience.  In terms of the real world, we call this ‘streetwise’. It’s the same online, but online can sometimes present us with different challenges, one of which is: what are all these risks?
 
Categories of risk

In her report, Professor Byron produced a simple table of risk categories which were originally defined by the EU Kids Online Project, and these are still used to a large extent today. These risk categories (sometimes referred to as the 3 Cs) allow us to talk about risk-based issues in a really simplified way:
 

  • Content
  • Contact
  • Conduct

Each category is further sub-categorised into:
 

  • Commercial
  • Aggressive
  • Sexual
  • Values


This gives us a great starting point to understand what risk is from an online safety perspective, but there’s another important aspect to consider too. When we discuss safe and appropriate behaviour, ‘appropriate’ is an important consideration when it comes to staff. Regrettably, there are numerous reports of staff being involved in conduct which falls well below that required of a professional (a couple of recent examples being school staff watching adult content in school), which is yet another reason why services such as NetSupport DNA are so important; an internet filter alone would not have caught this behaviour, but a good monitoring solution could. NetSupport DNA’s keyword and phrase monitoring tool for example, provides an insight into what students are typing and tracks application use for context. The keywords and phrases can have can have individual severity levels set which control the outcome on matching:  from a simple log of the activity that triggers an alert, through to capturing a screenshot – and also now a video recording – of the triggered event.

In the video, I’m going to go through “content, contact and conduct” a little more to explore what they mean. Click here to watch it.

Referenced Links:
 
Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants – Marc Prensky – Part 1: http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf
 
Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants – Marc Prensky – Part 2: http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part2.pdf

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