How do you start a conversation in school about online safety?

Ellie Proffitt, education and youth engagement manager at Childnet, explores how Safer Internet Day 2020 will focus on identity online and the way it affects young people

As a partner in the UK Safer Internet Centre, we encourage all schools to be part of the world’s biggest campaign to make the internet a safer and happier place.

Safer Internet Day is a great chance for young people to join in a national conversation about online safety. A huge range of organisations across the UK get involved, including thousands of schools, promoting the positive use of technology and helping to empower young people to make the most out of their time online.

When we listen to young people, they tell us they need time and space to reflect on and discuss their online lives at school.

When we listen to young people, they tell us they need time and space to reflect on and discuss their online lives at school

Finding space for open dialogue about online issues through the curriculum – for instance in PSHE or computing – can be a good step towards removing the barriers some young people face to reporting any worries they have. If they know that online safety is discussed in school, this can help them feel they will be listened to and taken seriously. Getting involved with Safer Internet Day is a great way to join the conversation and start to embed online safety education in school.

There is plenty of support on offer for teachers and young people to get the most out of Safer Internet Day, from lesson plans and assemblies to guides that will help schools decide how to mark the occasion.

Free to be me

Safer Internet Day 2020 will be celebrated on 11 February across the world, with the global theme, ‘Together for a better internet’.

It has grown year-on-year: last year over 2,100 organisations and schools across the UK registered as official supporters, and our records show 46% of young people in the UK heard about the day. Over 1,600 schools joined the campaign last time.

Each year we focus on a topical issue that is affecting young people in the UK, covering something new and interesting to engage children and adults alike. This time we are focusing on identity online and the way that this affects young people; helping them to explore whether the internet allows them to experiment and express themselves.

It includes thinking about the facts or characteristics that young people share online, how others perceive and interact with them, as well as how online services identify them. It also includes thinking about how offline stereotypes and discrimination are challenged or reinforced online.

By opening up conversations around online identity, we aim to inspire young people to support each other in being who they want to be, to celebrate difference and help work towards creating a truly inclusive internet.

We chose this theme after hearing about young people’s experiences during the education visits we run every day in schools across the UK. We also ran focus groups in both primary and secondary schools, asking young people about their views on identity online. They told us that it’s an issue they are concerned about, but that it wasn’t something that they had been able to explore in school – yet.

To help educators to explore this sometimes complex subject, our team of education professionals have created engaging resources so that all children can explore what identity online means. The resources are tailor-made for each age group and contain quick activities, assemblies, lesson plans, films and more.

There are four education packs designed for use with young people, a pack for parents and carers, and a pack to support educators delivering sessions. All of the resources are available in English and Welsh, and include films to help provoke discussions with young people and parents.

Engaging parents in online safety

Parents and carers have an important role to play in keeping young people safe online. When we speak to them, they tell us that the practical tools and resources we provide help them spark a conversation with their children to find out what they’re enjoying online – and to keep their children safe while helping them make the most of all the opportunities the internet has for play, discovery and friendship.

The range of resources for Safer Internet Day include activities and films that parents can use to spark a discussion with their children when they get home from school for instance, after the session they have received during their school day.

More resources are coming soon to the UK Safer Internet Centre website, including an interactive quiz looking at identity online, top tips for young people, parents and carers, and updated graphics you can use to spread the word on social media.

You might also like: Online behaviour: the key to battling cyberthreats

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