So, Shoot Me..

Today we see the much anticipated UK Council for Child Internet Safety ‘Click Clever, Click Safe’ the first child internet safety strategy and the usual tweeting, posting, publishing of statistics followed with predictable zeal.

So, I was asked for my response, and here it is, in the usual slightly garbled, ill punctuated rambling style that is my slovenly trademark..

Those of you who have attended my e safety sessions for children, teachers, adults who work with children, parents, governors and the rest, will know that I am passionate and committed to the cause of protecting our children and our colleagues from the many challenges posed by these new communication technologies.

So, I welcome the strategy, I value the commitment and energy of the 140 (very twitteresque) organisations of the council – and I remain optimistic that some good will come of it.

..and here’s the ‘but’

Let’s start with the easy things; what’s going on here; “We hope that ‘Zip it, Block it, Flag it’ will become as familiar to this generation as ‘Stop, Look and Listen’ was to the last,” said the Prime Minister. ?

The only time I hear ‘flag’ is in those meetings where folk adopt a vocabulary with the intention of elevating their own importance -and I have to confess that ‘zip’ will forever refer to file compression or possibly the lovable Uncle Buck ‘zip it, button it, lock it and throw away the key’. In no way can we see this as simple and accessible to children as ‘stop, look and listen’.

And.. the more difficult bit; throwing statistics around isn’t really of much use. If I have to endure one more esafety presentation with slide after slide of ‘alarming’ statistics there will be a real danger of me exiting by the nearest .. er.. exit.

The dangers are real and serious – I’m not saying they aren’t. What I am saying though, is we need to provide solutions, strategies, explanations – and we need to be positive role models.

After over 4yrs of being immersed in this area of work I can speak from a point of some experience. The challenges can be identified as follows

  • protecting children from the bad people on the internet – This needs no further explanation .Children are at risk of death and life long trauma
  • protecting children from each other – let’s call this ‘cyberbullying’ (though I could write for hours why this is such an inappropriate label)
  • protecting the infrastructure – you know; malware, hacking, identity theft etc.
  • and protecting the adults from false accusation, naive and inappropriate activity – and  we are attempting to create an environment where those who work with children and shouldn’t, feel the net closing and leave our schools, youth clubs etc.

Here we go.. here’s the BIG IDEA. We need to modify, change, censor, punish (you choose your word) the behaviours of adults.

Until adults model appropriate behaviours, we stand little chance of having any impact on the behaviours of young people.

Let’s choose some simple, glib examples

Take the teacher who, when asked by their pupils ‘Sir, are you on Facebook?’ choose to reply ‘Yes indeedy (cos I’m hip and groovy)’ When I was a young blokey teacher I lived in fear that kids would find out where I lived. Not because I expected bricks through the window but because I wanted to keep my life private. Didn’t drink in the same pubs as my pupils or their parents, made sharp exits if they were in the same club or tourist attraction – and yet adults who work with children so often reveal so much of their private lives to their pupils, their parents, their communities and the world via their Facebook accounts..

Look at Youtube and the hateful comments that appear below any video. It’s not only young people who post.

Look at the hate groups on facebook formed to share vile and hateful comments about the police, football clubs, football players, X factor and Big Brother contestants. I’m all for crowd sourcing to save Bletchley Park, support climate change et al – but the truth is; our kids are much more likely to see their parents, adults they know, posting hateful comments on message boards and web pages than saving the world.

I read this week that we live in Roman times; the crowd no longer gesturing with their thumbs but with extended text via the technologies of the internet.

Perhaps one of the most powerful resources I use in sessions with adults is by Barnardos – you know the one? It involves a group of men going out and shooting teenagers. The entire dialogue comprises of statements made by adults on UK newspaper message boards, about children. ‘

My question is; how can we expect young people to value our guidance if they see the hateful arrogance that we display from the security of a computer keyboard on a day to day basis?

Next time you’re on a train do a little bluetooth search and see what delightful names come up for those oh so respectable business type people you’re sitting with. There will be obscene, flirty, bad taste (‘remote detonator’) and racist. Our children see these on their phones everyday. My own experience at education conferences has produced such gems as ‘Sexy Blond and F*ck_off’.

Take a look at the aggression that came pouring out on The Archers message board when a 6th former asked if anyone had access to scripts for an English assignment

archers message board

A little ‘wordy’ I guess and this is one small part of a longer dialogue, with each, it would appear, the aim to belittle and humiliate the other.

And, I could go on, and on with examples of why we need to commit as much or more effort towards helping adults behave in ways that we would wish to see modelled for our children. Until then for people like me, our diaries will remain busy with sessions for teachers and adults who work with children.

Thanks for reading.

I eagerly await your polite and supportive comments 😉


9 Responses to So, Shoot Me..

  1. Mark Trudinger says:

    Great article, a very thoughtful analysis. The Internet exposes children to some of the best information and artistic expression that is available in the world. Along with that, though, they’re exposed to the worst of human expression.

    Children access the Internet at a younger age now than ever before, and spend more hours a day online as they grow up. The landscape of the Internet effectively forms the backdrop of all that children learn and experience in the developed world. The Internet is not only reflecting our society now – it is also forming the culture of our future.

    Thanks for your insight!


  2. SchoolDuggery says:

    Interesting thoughts.
    I agree that the “Zip it..” slogan is a bit laboured to ever be snappy. It isn’t really a step forward from the SMART rules that we have already been using in schools. The campaign itself has its merits. As you point out, the dangers are real. Moreover, unlike the real world dangers children encounter every day, many parents are not clued up enough to provide the safety messages that children need to hear. And that’s why schools need to be involved, even if we do sigh at having yet another compulsory bit of curriculum imposed upon us.
    Your main point about adult role models also has its parallels with the real, as opposed to virtual, world. Do as I say, not as I do. Adults engage in unsafe behaviour in front of their children all the time. They drink, they smoke, they fight, they swear. It isn’t surprising that this is also true of their online habits. In fact, this is less public to their children than other aspects of their behaviour. My children will see me eating takeaway and drinking a glass too much on a Friday night, but when they see me in Mustardland they don’t read my posts – just sigh that they have a mother whose online life includes something so dull as arguing about Ruth Archer.
    I do agree that everyone should treat their online lives with more respect. But this is true of all aspects of our lives. I suppose my point would be that we should not be separating out the Internet as a part of our children’s lives that is different from the rest of their experience. Let us teach them to respect themselves, their friends, family, teachers and strangers wherever they meet them, online or not. Teach them that people aren’t always who they seem to be even when you meet them face to face. Teach them to enjoy their lives but keep an eye out for trouble and avoid it.

  3. simfin says:

    Absolutely! Thanks for making the time to respond 🙂

  4. John McLear says:

    Good post, can’t disagree with you so I won’t.

    E-safety is a big growth area, let’s hope we can keep paranoia out and let the kids use the internet as it is supposed to be used. Openly and freely. As for cursing/bad images and the like.

    Educators try to take a high horse for this but I know that some of the school email customers disable curse word and child abuse detection as to have a less cluttered inbox on a daily basis, this needs to change.

    Also Child abuse/sexual predator detection has been available on an email system for over a year now but only 5 in 1000 schools are using it, how can it be that as educators we preach about e-safety but don’t put in places to detect it or measure the risk? I understand that it’s best to educate than to restrict internet use but a simple monitoring system does not restrict education and can mean the difference between a child’s being exposed long term or short term. Which do you chose?

  5. Great post, which makes the point about adult role-modelling behaviour very well. In a different but related context, I was subject to some cyberbullying earlier this year — all of it by adults, all of it by teachers. I wrote about it here:

    Regarding the ‘zip it’ slogan, they should have got a group of kids together to come up with something snappy. Still, I suppose it makes the right points in a snappy kind of way.

  6. simfin says:

    Thanks Terry. “cyberbullying’ is as inappropriate a label as ‘joyriding’ and I think is too close to ‘cyborg’ ‘cyberman’ etc. to have any real negative association for many adolescents. (I’ve also had the pleasure of being the message board moderator and the thoughtless ripostes of adults who should know better)


  7. Amanda Wilson says:

    Great article, when doing my degree project last year as a group we chose the topic of internet safety and created a guide for parents. From the focus groups set up it was quite easily shown that its not the children who need educated but the parents who do after all it is up to us to be aware of what our children do on the internet, my own children do have access but their pc is in the kitchen/diniing area where it is easily seen by everyone.

  8. simfin says:

    Thanks Amanda – would be very interested to see the guide for parents. There are lots of resources on and which may be of use for you 🙂

  9. Well written. I myself need to get on this matter as things are not looking to bight on my end.

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