Why every day should be a Safer Internet Day in your school and how you can make space for conversations about life online, from MAT Chair and CEO of NetSupport, Al Kingsley.

Since the pandemic, we’ve all been encouraged to talk more about how we feel and speak out when things get too much, all for the good of our mental health. It seems that the experience has finally brought home to many more of us that talking and sharing is a great way to help and support each other.

But, as life returns to ‘normal’, finding the time to check in for these conversations amidst the hustle and bustle of school, work and activities can become harder. But we mustn’t lose the habit, as mental health is so closely tied to other issues – one of which is online safety.

 

Two sides to the internet

Online experiences are intrinsically linked to mental health, especially for young people who are just beginning their online lives and spending a lot of time on devices both at school and at home. There’s a lot to love about the internet, like games, entertaining videos, social connections and music. But there’s also the riskier side to think about: cyberbullying, grooming, sexting, and so on.

When things go wrong for young people online, it can affect how they feel, how they act, their sleeping, eating – their whole world. And the internet is ‘always on’. There’s just no escape from it if something has gone wrong.

And we’ve all heard about or even encountered extreme cases, where the connections young people make can lead to exploitation, with others practically taking over their whole lives.

Digital citizenship

As we know, equipping our students with the skills to be good digital citizens not only enhances their enjoyment of online life but also alerts them to the risks and ensures that they know to keep themselves safe. The internet was not built with young people in mind, and, although we have known for years and years now that it’s as interesting to them as it is to us, we ‘adults’ are still playing catch-up with retrofitting the online space with protective measures. And with the best will in the world, we are not progressing quickly enough or effectively enough to keep not just our children – but everyone – safe online.

It’s good to talk

The annual Safer Internet Day shines a light on online safety, raising awareness that, even now, there is still work to do to make the internet a safer place for young people to hang out.

The theme for 2023 was, “Want to talk about it? Making space for conversations about life online,” which fits in perfectly with what we’ve been doing with our mental health conversations over the last couple of years. It’s a reminder to all of us that we do actually need to make the effort to create the space for those exchanges to happen – it’s too easy to put it off or let things drift in the flow of a busy week.

Online safety CPD

To show our support of Safer Internet Day, the NetSupport team produced two extremely valuable resources, firstly, our Online Safety Guide 2023, which is a great source of information on all the pertinent online safety topics, alongside informative statistics,signposts to valuable sources of information, and advice for teachers and parents. The other resource is our online safety panel discussion.

A great piece of CPD for your staff at any time of the year, it features guests including the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), NetSupport, SWGfL, i-vengers, a positive mental health advocate, and a school technology lead. It contains a wealth of informative tips and experiences that staff can take away and try in their schools.

Hear the message

For all the emphasis on talking more, let’s not forget that the flipside is listening more. That’s something we could all be better at and, like any skill, it takes effort to cultivate.

But we all appreciate being listened to – really listened to – and young people need to know that if they pluck up the courage to confide in us about what’s happening to them online, we are there to hear them.

Every day is a day to make space for conversations about life online, so let’s step up and make it a priority – for all of our young people.

Author

  • Al Kingsley

    Al is CEO of NetSupport, chair of a multiacademy trust, chair of his local governors’ leadership group, Regional SEND Board chair and member of the Regional Schools Director's Board. Well-known in EdTech, Al speaks regularly at international education events and has authored three books.
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