Strangers online… or are they?

It’s crucial to have open, honest chats with young people about the people they meet online.

E-safety Training Child Game
A common message given to young people is: don’t speak to strangers online. This is primarily a safeguarding message; we recognise that strangers might pose risks and we want to protect our children from these.

But, what is a stranger to someone online?

The way that we interact with people online has changed, and for young people, a lot of this is due to online social gaming.


What is social gaming?

When I played games when I was younger, I’d either play by myself or have someone physically sitting next to me with a games controller. Nowadays, however, due to the speed of the Internet, we can play with others online and see what they’re doing in real-time; we call this social gaming. We can also chat to them via text or voice, adding to the experience and the immersion. We can choose to play games with our friends, but more and more games are encouraging players to play against people they don’t know… people we would refer to as ‘strangers’.

Why we need to change our terminology

Imagine the scenario: a child is playing an online game with a friend, and that friend invites one of his friends to play. Within a minute or two, the child may not perceive the new person as a stranger; they’ve become a new friend or acquaintance. It happened quickly, and as they were introduced by their friend, they’re more likely to be immediately trusted. We know that when people are online their behaviour changes and, in this scenario, due to the physical distance between players, the child would be more likely to engage in riskier behaviour (engaging with the ‘stranger’) than they would do in real life as their defences are lower.

We, therefore, may be better talking to children about ‘new people’ or ‘new players’ they meet online, rather than ‘strangers’.

The risks

It’s important that young people are made aware of the risks that meeting new people online can bring:

  • They may not be who they say they are and may be good at hiding their true identity;
  • They may be attempting to groom or harm by using emotional and/or persuasive strategies – this could involve trying to make video-chat arrangements;
  • They may be trying to arrange to meet in real-life;
  • They may be trying to find people online to bully.
  • Supporting young people

    It’s crucial to have open, honest chats with young people about the people they meet online. Our key messages to them should include:

  • The importance of thinking before acting, and approaching new people with a level of scepticism, even if they’re friends of friends;
  • The knowledge that it’s easy to pretend to be someone else online;
  • The importance of blocking and/or reporting anyone online who’s pretending to be someone else;
  • The importance of speaking to trusted adults about people online who are frightening them or asking them to do things which make them feel uncomfortable.
  • Further links:
    The Breck Foundation - (a story of someone who was groomed through gaming)

    Written by Matt Lovegrove on October 25, 2018 11:42

    Playing the Game

    Should head teachers report parents to the authorities who allow their children to play adult-rated video games?

    E-safety GamingImagine a conversation:

    “Dad, can I play the new video game?”

    “No, it’s an 18 certificate game and you’re not 18.”

    “Awww Dad, please?”

    “No, because if you do and school finds out, they may report me to the police or social services!”

    Does this sound crazy? Do schools have a right to ‘interfere’ directly in parent’s decisions that affect their children; after all, they have a duty to protect their students against unsuitable material? Or, is this a step too far? Surely, it is not the place of schools to police the day-to-day activities of the upbringing of children by parents - they are the ones that know their offspring and how mature they are with regard to the content they consume?

    This is exactly the nature of a warning that has been issued by the ‘Nantwich Education Partnership’ (a group of 15 primary schools and one secondary school) in Cheshire this week, when the head teachers of the schools found that some children were being allowed to watch and play age-inappropriate games that contained high levels of violence and sexual content.

    In a letter to parents, the head teachers have stated that playing these games and also allowing under-age access to social media sites such as ‘Facebook’ and ‘WhatsApp’ could lead to “early sexualised behaviour” and could render children “vulnerable” to grooming for sexual exploitation or extreme violence.

    They continued the letter: “If your child is allowed to have inappropriate access to any game or associated product that is designated 18+, we are advised to contact the police and children’s social care as this is deemed neglectful.”

    It is true that schools and teachers have a duty with regard to the safeguarding of their students, but is this policy taking that duty too far? Surely, this is a trivial matter that should be left to parents? But consider for a moment how often have you overheard young students in school enthusing over the latest releases of ‘Grand Theft Auto’ or ‘Gears of War’, both of which are certified 18 years and older, and done nothing about it? And yet, if we overheard students talking about frequently watching pornography at home, with their parent’s permission, we might take it more seriously.

    A problem occurs here when technophobic parents, who don’t understand the content of games and rightly base their decision not to allow their child access to a particular game on its age-rating; however, peer-pressure then occurs on their child from their classmates, whose parent’s may not be so fastidious when it comes to monitoring the games that their children are playing. This then manifests itself as constant nagging by the child who, over time, wears the parent down until they inevitably, but reluctantly agree to let them play. Is it right that these parents should have a knock on the door from the police or social services?

    Schools do find themselves in a difficult predicament. On the one hand, they must be seen by the inspection authorities to have good quality safeguarding policies in place in order to protect their students from unsuitable material; however, on the other hand most head teachers are very reluctant to alienate parents by threatening serious intervention into the family unit with regard to what a lot parents would argue is a fairly trivial matter and nothing to do with schools.

    Do you agree with what the head teachers in Cheshire are proposing to do? Do you think that schools should intervene to protect children from inappropriate material? Do you think that this is going too far and schools have no right to interfere in parental decisions? We would love to hear your comments regarding this difficult subject.

    You can also take part in a poll on the subject by clicking here.

    Written by Steve Gresty on April 01, 2015 13:15

    E-safety Review of 2014

    Governor Training 8In the final E-safety Support article of the year, we thought it would be an ideal opportunity to look back at some of the major news stories and events that have shaped the world of e-safety during 2014.

    In January, the Christmas sales figures reported the huge increase in sales of tablet devises, changing the way many young people interact with the online environment. Unsurprisingly then, the biggest trend on display at the 2014 Bett show was that of implementing these devises into education.

    February saw the 11th annual Safer Internet Day. Activities were held across the UK and reached millions. We are of course, looking forward to the event again in 2015. February also saw the fleeting internet craze, Nek-Nominate. This saw many young people taking sometimes fatal risks in order to go one better than their predecessors in this online phenomenon.

    In March, a new NSPCC report found that 28% of children aged 11-16 with a profile on a social networking site have experienced something upsetting on it in the last year. In other news, teachers too were once again recognised by unions as needing ‘rules’ for social media usage. However, the positive side of social media was also recognised when the ‘no make-up selfie’ campaign raised millions for charity.

    At the beginning of April, Ofsted released their latest inspecting e-safety briefing document containing suggestions for good and outstanding practice in this area. This report was to be later removed from the public domain, although the requirement for a robust e-safety provision in schools was still very much on the Ofsted agenda.

    May saw the emergence of ‘Creepshots’, websites that operate like social networking media sites where members are encouraged to post photos that have been taken possibly without consent or knowledge of the person in them. May was also the month when the European Union set a major precedent over what is now referred to as the "right to be forgotten".

    Slenderman made an appearance in June, the disturbing Internet creation that is being blamed for a series of near fatal stabbings. In other news in June, Facebook announced plans for a platform for children under 13 to have social networking profile. A report from AGV found that almost 80% of parents blame the Internet for forcing the 'Facts of Life' conversation. It was also suggested that contrary to popular opinion, children's unorthodox spelling and grammar while texting does not stop them learning the rules of formal English.

    July saw the launch of Friendly WiFi. Friendly WiFi is the world’s first accreditation scheme designed to verify whether a business’ public Wi-Fi service meets a minimum level of filtering to block out access to pornographic and child abuse websites. This brand new service aims to protect young people when they access the Internet using Wi-Fi hotspots in cafes, restaurants etc.

    In August, a study by Oxford University saw the positive side of gaming, suggesting that playing video games for a short period each day could have a small but positive impact on child development. Also in August, Ofcom announced figures which suggested that six-year-olds understand digital technology better than adults.

    In September, The Telegraph reported that parents feel more confident talking to their children about notoriously tricky topics like the birds and the bees, puberty and race than they do about how to use the internet safely – and some plan to avoid it, despite admitting its importance. In related news, parents were encouraged to pay more attention to the apps their children download after new research found that nearly a third do not monitor the downloads their children make to their smartphones.

    News in October reported that teenagers sending each other sexually explicit messages and images – known as sexting – is increasingly becoming a “normal” part of growing up. However, they were also warned about the risks and potential legal issues surrounding sexting. It was also in October when the leak of images from the popular app Snapchat (which became known as the ‘Snappening’) put the privacy of many young people at risk.

    As we reached November, many schools and organisations geared up for Anti-Bullying Week. With more and more children owning mobile devices and spending longer online and on social media, cyber bullying is becoming one of the most common forms of bullying. The annual event organised by the Anti Bullying Alliance saw many activities across the UK.

    And finally, in December, the Prime Minister spoke at the #We Protect Children Online summit to commit to tackling online safety. David Cameron revealed details of 3 main strategies to tackle online child exploitation; blocking internet search terms, identifying illegal images and Global child protection and laws.

    Looking back, it’s been an eventful year, with the world of e-safety evolving and online trends coming and going in a flash. We expect 2015 to be no different, so will be continuing to support you and your school with up-to-date news and information about the e-safety issues that affect you.

    Written by Safeguarding Essentials on December 18, 2014 14:04


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