There are several ways to keep children safe, both online and offline. Perhaps the first thing to recognise is that the two things are related. In an article entitled “Adolescents’ experience of offline and online risks: separate and joint propensities”, Anke Görzig states:
“The hypothesis that those who encounter offline risks are more likely to encounter online risks, whether because of their personality or behaviour, is supported by survey evidence …, clinical reports …, policy analysis … and criminal cases.”
In other words, if we want to keep children safe online then we must also address their behaviour offline.
Unfortunately, there is ample research to show that children’s brains, especially the part that assesses risk, are not fully developed until the early to mid-20s. What this means, in practice, is that you can tell a child that a certain type of behaviour, such as wandering off during a school trip, is risky. They may even agree. But that will not necessarily stop them doing it.
So, wherever you stand on the topics of child-centred education and children’s rights, this is one area where adults have to take control.
As far as online behaviour is concerned, it’s a good idea to put controls in place on what can be accessed and what can’t, and to encourage (and, if necessary, help) parents to do the same. But that is not enough because sooner or later the child will find a way to circumvent the controls.
A good supplementary approach is to encourage parents to talk to their child about what he or she is doing online — not in an aggressive, accusatory manner, but as an older and wiser trusted friend.
In school, teachers might consider awarding ‘merits’ for good (ie sensible) behaviour online, as they can easily be recorded in Emerge.
Another thing teachers can do, uncomfortable as it may be, is to explain to children what they can and should do, and shouldn’t do, in particular situations.
It’s always good to remember the writer’s motto: ‘Show, don’t tell’. An approach that has been used very successfully, especially with younger children, is to have the whole class befriend a 9 year old girl who lives in Australia, say, but whose webcam is broken so that she can only be conversed with through typing, not video. After a few weeks, you ask the children if they’d like to meet ‘Julie’, to which they excitedly shout “Yes!”. As you’ve probably guessed, ‘Julie’ turns out to be the Deputy Head, Mr Grimes.
When it comes to offline safety, there are several things a school can do. First, it can ascertain whether the child is in school to start with — and to do so as soon after the start of the day as possible. If a child hasn’t turned up for registration, the office staff need to know virtually instantly so that they can put the proper procedures into motion.
Secondly, especially on school trips, the teachers in charge should know how to communicate with each child, and vice versa.
Thirdly, set up a ‘buddy’ system, by which you make sure that each child is always with another one, and that they each look out for the other.
These kinds of actions are sensible precautionary measures which can easily be put in place. There is, however, another meaning of the phrase ‘child safety’: has the school provided a safe learning environment, in which pupils are expected to show respect for the views of others, and have the right to be shown respect for their own views.
Are classrooms supportive, vibrant places of learning? Are the children well-behaved? Children running around a classroom is not conducive to an accident-free existence.
At the end of the day, child safety depends on three factors: an understanding of the issues by teachers and parents, and their willingness to enforce rules; a knowledge of what’s good and what’s not good behaviour on the part of children, even if they don’t fully understand why; and technological and software solutions that can be used to impose controls, record behaviour, or provide up-to-the-minute information on the children in the school’s care. Groupcall Messenger allows for easy communication between schools and parents, which can help to identify patterns of behavior that are cause for concern. To find out more about Messenger and how it can keep children safe in school, take a look at our product page.