Are you a parent searching for ways to keep your kids safe from trolling? Over the last couple of years, tech has been a lifeline for us all, especially for children and young people. It has allowed them to continue their education and stay connected with their friends while we were all stuck at home. But for some, it meant they were experiencing more of the online world with limited preparation to deal with the potential risks, reflected in the latest analysis by Internet Matters.

Trolling, bullying and fake news

Internet Matters speak to parents regularly throughout the year to hear about their child’s experience of online issues and their concerns. Their most recent survey showed that parents of six to 10-year-olds reported a large increase in experience of trolling, bullying, sharing information and exposure to fake news.

Almost six in 10 (59%) of parents said they were concerned about the effects of fake news and misinformation online, an increase of 24% from October 2020 to December 2021.

Online trolling or abuse from strangers more than doubled (6% to 13%) and being bullied by someone they know has increased by 31%. Direct contact with strangers online has increased by 64% and giving away personal information has also doubled (6% to 12%).

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These figures are stark and concerning and show the need for a coordinated approach to keeping children safe online – between parents, teachers and the Government. In 2020, the Government introduced the Relationships and Health curriculum in all primary schools in England, giving schools a statutory duty to teach children about building positive relationships online.

Digital Matters: free online teaching platform

To make sure teachers are equipped with the right resources to teach this, Internet Matters have developed a free online teaching platform – called Digital Matters. The platform includes lessons for Key Stage 2 pupils aged 9-11 that have links to the national curriculum in England for English, Computing, Relationships Education and PSHE, and aligns to the UK Council for Internet Safety (UKCIS) Education for a Connected World Framework.

Internet Matters has spoken with multiple teachers and schools across the country during the planning stages to understand the barriers they face when teaching younger children the critical thinking skills they need to stay safe online. They told us they often struggle to find resources that are age-appropriate or impactful enough to keep children engaged for the key messages to sink in.

It also became clear that both teachers and parents struggle to access the right resources and communicate effectively between home and the classroom.

That’s why we’re incredibly proud that this new resource can be used both at home and at school and aimed to give teachers the quality assured materials they need, and parents a way to stay in the loop on their child’s online safety education.

What does it offer?

The Digital Matters platform – developed by Internet Matters with support from their digital security partner ESET – contains modules covering topics that have been identified as key issues affecting young people within this age group – including cyberbullying, online relationships, privacy and security, and managing information online (fake news).

The modules have been quality assured by the PSHE Association (the national body for Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education) and have been developed with the expertise of teachers and online safety experts.

Teaching online safety and media literacy

Digital Matters has been developed to teach online safety and media literacy, and make it as easy and as streamlined as possible, after speaking to the various teachers to understand their needs. The dedicated teachers’ hub gives teachers free access to all supporting content, including companion guides, ready-made lesson plans, at-home learning materials and offline handouts if children don’t have access to devices.

The content featured in Digital Matters has been developed following the UKCIS Education for a Connected World Framework and covers several important topics including:

  • Online relationships
  • Privacy & security
  • Online bullying
  • Managing online information

The platform can be accessed here. 

How does it work?

The teaching platform is divided into two sections: Interactive Learning and Once Upon Online.

Students start with Interactive Learning, led by their teacher, where they learn about the online safety concept through small activities and discussion. For example, children are given a scenario where they have to decide if it’s an example of bullying, cyberbullying, a joke between two friends or not an issue. This helps the child exercise their understanding of an online issue and how it’s defined. It also gives them something to compare their real-life experiences too, so they can help make better-informed decisions in the future.

Teachers and parents can also use the Once Upon Online section which guides a character through online safety choices using what they have learned. The story-based modules let children make realistic choices in a safe environment to understand the consequences and make better choices next time.

Parent Companion guide for support at home

As a part of the lessons, there is a take-home component to encourage parents to engage with their child’s online safety education as well. Parents can access the platform independently and download a bespoke Parent Companion guide.

It’s really important for parents to be engaged in their children’s online safety education as most children are using technology at home so they need to stay in the know to help keep their children safe. It is, however difficult, as the social media landscape is ever-changing and as a parent it can sometimes feel overwhelming and impossible to keep on top of everything.

To support parents in teaching children, the guide provides additional information about topics to ensure they have all the information and support they need. This is something parents and children can do together, it doesn’t have to be in the classroom. They can then go through both sections with their child or choose to complete the Once Upon Online section with different answers for different results.

The activities open up discussion about choices made online and how children can find support if they need it. It’s important to teach these lessons in all areas of life – both at home and at school – as digital devices are always around. Internet Matters is calling for a joined-up approach between teacher and parent and encourage the learning to continue at home.

Why do we need it?

It’s needed for a number of reasons, but the most recent research from Internet Matters found that the number of parents of six to 10-year-olds who said their child had been affected by exposure to fake news, misinformation or disinformation more than doubled compared to the previous year.

More than twice as many children of the same age experienced online trolling or abuse from strangers. And like any form of bullying, cyberbullying can be horrible for the children involved and hard for them to talk about, much like the other issues highlighted in our survey.

There were also significant increases in children aged six to 10 having direct experience of contact with strangers online, peer pressure to do things they wouldn’t normally do and giving away personal information online.

The survey also shows that parents believe schools should play a key role in teaching children about online safety, yet 82% would welcome more dedicated education delivered within schools.

Digital Matters was designed to tackle these issues and close a crucial gap in the children’s online safety education by designing a platform to help meet those needs. Ultimately, Digital Matters aims to provide children with the information and skills to tackle the digital world with confidence, at an age when they’re more likely to start gaining independence online.

By Ghislaine Bombusa, Head of Digital at Internet Matters. For more information and resources on keeping children and young people safe online, visit internetmatters.org

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