Children today are increasingly using Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in schools and in the home. The following guides and information explain how you can help to keep your child safe online, how ICT can be an effective teaching tool, the rules that we enforce at St Matthias School when using computers and some guidance on social networking.
Social Networking Guidance for Parents/Carers
Twitter is a communications platform that allows users to share small bursts of information called Tweets. Each Tweet is a maximum of 140 characters long. You can also get links, see photos, videos and news stories and participate in conversations using Tweets.
Twitter is a public space
Most of the communication taking place on Twitter is public and viewable by everyone. While Tweets can be protected so only approved followers can see them, most users share their Tweets with everyone. If your child wants their Tweets to only be available to approved followers, they can protect their Tweets through the Tweet privacy section of their Account Settings.
Facebook is designed for children aged 13 years old and upwards. It allows people to connect with friends and communicate through chat, personal messages and sharing photos, videos, links and other kinds of information. As Facebook is designed for teens, we do not promote its use by children at St Matthias School. However, this does not necessarily mean they are not using it.
By using a fake date of birth, children under 13 years of age can sign up for a Facebook account. Please take the time to talk to your child about whether or not they are using Facebook and what they are using it for. It is much better that children are open about their use of Facebook, rather than using it secretly.
Who can see my child’s timeline?
This depends on the user’s account settings. Normally, the people who can see what users under 17 years old post are their Facebook friends, friends of friends, and networks (like the school they attend). Facebook maintain added protections and security settings for teens (age 13-17 years). If children have put in a fake date of birth which gives them an age over 17 years, these security settings may not be applied to their account and their timeline may be visible to more people.
Web-logs, commonly known as blogs, allow people to share their writing with other members of the internet community who can then comment on the work.
The blog could be a diary, research or just pieces of writing which they have written for the joy of it. While everyone on the internet can view this material, if settings are applied correctly, only approved members can contribute a post and all comments must be approved by the blog editor.
The school blogs are managed by class teachers. Children’s posts must be approved by the teachers and all comments are moderated by them before being published on the blog.
Social Networking Safety
Explain to your child that passwords should never be shared, not even with their friends! If the home computer is shared, remind them always to log out when they finish their online sessions so as to develop good online safety habits. It is important to log out of any websites which they have logged into on a shared computer to stop other people accessing their information.
Use online safety to connect with your child
Children in particular may feel that parents/carers are disconnected from their perspective and fear that conversations about online safety will be awkward or embarrassing. Listen to how your child is using Twitter, Facebook and other online mediums. It is important to take their online relationships seriously.
One of the best ways to begin a conversation is to ask your teens why services like Twitter or Facebook are important to them. You might also ask them to show you how to set up your own Twitter account or Facebook timeline, so that you can see what it is all about. Discuss what sort of information is appropriate to share online – and what is not appropriate. Ask them about privacy settings, and suggest that you go over them together regularly. Set ground rules, and enforce them.
Keep a healthy life balance
As a parent/carer, you are a role model for your child. Demonstrate the importance of a balance between online and other activities by encouraging family activities online as well as offline.
Encourage critical thinking
Take the opportunity to learn about the sort of situations your child is experiencing online, and use these to identify solutions and encourage critical thinking. Ask questions such as:
- Who are you sharing this information with?
- Can you trust all the people who see the information on your profile?
- How could your Tweet/post be interpreted?
Children must have a clear understanding of what to do if they have concerns about inappropriate online behaviour, such as unwelcome contact or cyber-bullying.
Think before Tweeting/posting
As parents/carers, you may have seen children say or write things that were not intended to be hurtful but that others found offensive or upsetting. Help your child to evaluate whether or not something is acceptable to post by reminding them that, if they would not say it to the person’s face or out loud, they should not say it online either.
The nature of the internet makes it difficult to erase content completely. Consider having a conversation about how some items which are online can hurt feelings, affect offline relationships and even jeopardise future opportunities.
It is about respect
It is also important to talk about the Golden Rule: treat others the way you wish to be treated. This also applies to using new technologies. Make sure your child knows where to go for support if someone ever harasses them. Help them to understand how to make responsible and safe choices about what they post, because anything they put online can be misinterpreted or taken out of context.
Dealing with Problems
Some people take advantage of the fact that they can send messages to large numbers of people in an online community. Users of social networks may find that they receive confusing messages from strangers, perhaps trying to sell products or open up communication. This is known as spam. If users receive spam, they should block that user so that they can no longer communicate with them. If the messages continue, they should be reported to the specific site.
Spam can also be used to launch ‘phishing’ attacks where users are sent emails tricking them into ‘updating’ their personal details online via a fake website (imitating a bank or similar) or through a misleading pop up advertisement, such as a banner informing them that they have won a prize or money.
Spam can also be used as a means of distributing malicious software (‘malware’), which has been designed secretly to access a computer network or system without the owner’s consent. Once there, malware usually causes some unexpected and undesirable result, ranging from being intrusive or annoying (in the case of ‘adware’) to compromising your personal information (in the form of keystroke-logging spyware used for identity theft), or outright destructive in the form of viruses which might destroy system files or impact upon the operation of your system.
There are a number of strategies that parents/carers can employ simultaneously to guard against spam, malware and viruses. These include technological protection in the form of firewalls and anti-virus software on the home network, and awareness and education for all family members.
When it has Gone Too Far
Sometimes people can use social networks to ‘bully’ other users. If unwanted online behaviour is persistent, it may be rooted in ‘real world’ relationships. If your child is experiencing repetitive cyber-bullying or interpersonal conflicts that are also taking place online, consider taking the following actions:
Coordinate with the school
Many issues can be resolved by working with staff at St Matthias School or through another authority which the school has contact with, such as the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP). If your child is experiencing repetitive cyber-bullying, please contact the school for support in taking action. If the perpetrators of the bullying are found to be pupils of the school, we will deal with the situation in the same way we would treat physical bullying.
Report a violation
Get to know the Twitter / Facebook rules and policies. If, after reviewing their policies, you believe an account is violating their rules, you or your child can file a report.
Contact local law enforcement
Twitter and Facebook will investigate every report received. However, if a situation has gone beyond the point of a personal conflict and has turned into credible threats, whether it be online or offline, you should contact the Local Authority (LA). The LA is in the best position to assess the threat and intervene or assist as necessary.
Tips For Parents/Carers
Some suggestions of how to support your child’s internet use:
- It can be tough to keep up with technology. Do not be afraid to ask your child to explain it to you.
- If you are not already on Facebook or Twitter, consider joining. That way you will understand what it is all about!
- Teach your child the online safety basics so they can keep their online accounts private and safe.
- Talk about technology safety in the same way that you talk about safety while out alone or playing sports.
Start a conversation with your child
Some suggested ways of starting a conversation with your child about their social networking:
- Do you feel that you can tell me if you ever have a problem at school or online?
- Help me to understand why Facebook/Twitter is important to you.
- Can you help me to set up a Facebook timeline/Twitter account?
- Who are your friends on Facebook?
- I want to be your friend on Facebook. Would that be ok with you? What would make it ok?