E-Safety and Parenting – the challenges for day and boarding pupils

Posted on: 21 Nov 2013

By Richard Follett, Headmaster of Vinehall School.

It is the fear of every parent that they will be unable to protect their children as they grow up, and the constantly changing nature of technology is high on their list of concerns. The speed with which trends in technology are taking place means many adults find themselves in a worrying position. More often than not, they know far less than their children about the activities taking place online, let alone how to help them if and when things go wrong.

Many organisations, such as CEOP (the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre) and The Parent Zone, exist to provide help and support across the age ranges of children, as well as offer advice for parents on a large variety of topics relating to technology and the risks which could potentially occur.

The key to online safety for parents is really quite simple, whether their child is a boarder or day pupil, and that is to talk to them, set appropriate boundaries and use parental controls to set passwords which cannot be easily unlocked. A child who is determined to access inappropriate websites or use their phone at night time will most likely find a way to do so whatever systems are in place, which is why talking to children is so important. Parents asking their children to show them the sites they use and the games they play, as well as explaining the privacy settings they have set up, is a good way to develop trust on both sides.

For parents of pupils at boarding schools, there is a reliance on the school to take on the role of the parent and supervise internet use to ensure it remains safe. In many respects this takes much of the concern away, as schools are so well-equipped with excellent filtering systems to block inappropriate use using the school wifi network. Greater concern however comes with mobile phones rather than laptops and tablets, as they can easily be set up to provide a mobile wifi hotspot and bypass school networks to access all the web has to offer, both good and bad, and at all times of the day and night.

For those with children who are boarding, talking to the housemaster or housemistress to understand the expected routine in the boarding house will be very important. It may well be the case that the school has a ‘terms and conditions of use’ for laptops and tablets brought in from home. Expect mobile phones for children in Years 9 and below to be collected by the house staff each day and/or night to ensure they are not used at the wrong time, but after that, it really does come down to trust. Research supports a combination of an authoritative parenting approach (rather than authoritarian), combined with sensibly managed time for using technology for recreation, as the key to a healthy balance. Without it, parents cannot really blame anyone but themselves if their children get it badly wrong.

Richard Follett. November 2013

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