A guide to online safety | Keeping kids safe online


Online safety (also known as e-safety) is critical in children’s education. For it to be effective, it’s important for school communities – teachers, parents and students – to have a good understanding of what it is and what can be done.

There’s a full generation of kids who haven’t experienced life before the internet or social media. As savvy as they seem with tech, the online world is still a new environment – one that we’re yet to truly understand.

Unfortunately, we can’t rely on social media networks or legislation to make these environments safe. The best way to ensure kids are going to be safe online is through education and the reinforcement of online safety learning.

What is online safety?

Online safety is the ability to recognise and deal with negative experiences or threatening behaviour in an online environment, covering:

  • Bullying
  • Abuse
  • Threats
  • Sexual harassment
  • Offensive content
  • Privacy
  • Data control
  • Unwanted contact
  • Social engineering (hacking)

Some key stats on kids’ online safety

In the latest stats (2017/8):

One in eight 12-15s said they had been bullied on social media

16% of children aged 8-11 and 31% of 12-15s found something worrying or ‘nasty’ online

In 2017/8, more than 3000 Childline counselling sessions concerning online bullying and safety took place. 2200 of these referenced sexual abuse online.

Stats taken from Ofcom, How safe are our children? 2018, and COBIS.

Online bullying, cyberbullying, online abuse, cyber-abuse

Bullying is repeated, mean, denigrating and demoralising behaviour used to hurt another individual.

In the real world, these actions are easy to spot – it’s not so easy to see online. In the digital world, kids can experience bullying through:

  • Incessant teasing and put-downs
  • Mocking
  • Threats (of physical, social or psychological interference or violence)
  • Social manipulation (spreading lies or rumours, public embarrassment)
  • Exclusion (purposefully being left out of communities)

How to manage online bullying

Instruct your kids:

  1. Mute, block or delete the bully
  2. If the behaviour continues, report them to the social networking site
  3. If it still doesn’t stop to tell a trusted adult

Image-based abuse

Imagery abuse can take many forms:

  • Altering or photoshopping a picture of someone to demean them
  • Sharing images out of context as evidence for a lie
  • Sharing or taking intimate images of a person under the age of 18
  • Sharing an intimate image of an adult without their consent (also referred to as revenge porn)

When this kind of abuse is sexual in nature, the results can be devastating, splitting families, communities, and leading to very real contemplation of suicide.

As devices get better at taking photos and video, social networks have improved their ability to share it instantly or broadcast it in real-time.

One report states that ‘over half of UK youth have witnessed peers circulating nude or nearly nude images of someone they know’ – Project deShame.

How to manage image-based abuse

Instruct your kids to:

  1. Tell the recipient to delete the images
  2. Find and report any instances of the images being shown online
  3. Tell a trusted adult what’s happened and report to the IWF – Internet Watch Foundation

Sexual harassment

This is a combination of bullying and imagery abuse that is sexually aggressive in nature. It can take the form of:

  • repeated unwanted sexual advances
  • requesting intimate imagery
  • taking and sharing photos without consent
  • threatening sexual violence

Girls are around 3 times more likely than boys (31% – 11%) to be on the receiving end of sexual harassment.

How to manage online sexual harassment

Instruct your kids to:

  1. Mute, block or delete the harasser
  2. If the behaviour continues, report them to the social networking site
  3. Alert your parents, teachers, and the appropriate authorities

Unwanted contact and grooming

Unwanted contact is when someone, generally older than the child receiving the message, reaches out to a child on the internet and sends them offensive, obscene, sexual messaging or requests for things of a sexual nature.

Grooming is a subtle form of unwanted contact where adults try to befriend children and gain their trust so they can meet in real life. Grooming can be sexual in nature, or be the first step in radicalisation.

How to manage unwanted contact and grooming

Instruct your kids to:

  1. Tell a trusted adult if a stranger contacts you
  2. If in doubt of an adult online, mute, block, delete and report
  3. If an adult contacts you and makes you feel in any way uncomfortable, or you’re unsure about them, let your parents and teachers know
  4. Never, ever meet with someone you don’t know online

Graphic and illegal content

Being sent graphic and illegal content can have repercussions for both the sender and the receiver – this kind of content includes:

  • child pornography or child sexual abuse
  • footage of extreme violence
  • advocacy of violence or terrorism
  • instruction of promoting or performing crime or violence

How to manage being sent graphic and illegal content

Instruct your kids to:

  1. Delete it immediately
  2. Mute, block, delete and report the person who sent it
  3. Tell your parents, teacher, and an appropriate authority about what was sent

Social engineering

Also known as hacking, phishing, clickjacking and clickbait

Popular media has skewed how we view the invasion of peoples’ online privacy. In the real world, accessing someone high-value information, images, and accounts are done through social engineering.

Social engineering is the effort to get someone to give up their passwords. It might be in the form of a scam, like sending a fake ‘your password needs to be reset’ email, or someone asking to just ‘have a look’ inside their account, or as direct as threatening someone to give up their password.

How to manage social engineering

Instruct your kid to:

  1. Use strong password and pins (don’t write them down)
  2. Set-up two factor authentication (a verification that who entered the password or details is the actual owner of the account)
  3. Never ever tell anyone their password (even friends)
  4. If your account is hacked, let the social network, app or institution know about it
  5. If it involves money or sexual imagery, tell your parents, teacher and appropriate authority

Tips on making strong passwords

  1. Use passphrases instead of passwords – things like goodboyswalksoftlyonthemoon or thequeenpancakesighedopenly. These are generally easier to remember and harder for hackers or programs to guess
  2. Hackers are no better at guessing a password made up from two unconnected words as they are at guessing gobbledygook; what’s really important is the length of the password. So, StrawberryZealand1 is much more secure and easier to remember than v4sf3

How successful are these management strategies?

The digital world is hard to navigate, harder to monitor and can be almost impossible to police.

No strategies are fail-safe – the best thing we can do for our kids is to make sure they’re educated on the dangers of the online and digital world.

It’s important to introduce e-safety to kids early

Teaching e-safety can be tough.

There’s a lot of information to get through, and it can be hard for young people to understand the full impact of an online disaster before it happens. Online safety isn’t something you can cover in one session just to tick a box, it’s about teaching our kids to behave just as they are expected to offline.

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