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Smoothwall: Protecting children online is a shared responsibility

OpinionPrimary Education
By Heather McLean | 24 July 2017
Size0.00 KB
Create DateJuly 24, 2017
Last UpdatedJuly 24, 2017

By Claire Stead, online safety ambassador at Smoothwall.

Young people today are the first truly digital natives, spending up to 4.8 hours a day online. This is a significant amount of time where they could literally be viewing anything on their screens or talking to anyone on social channels. Within the time that children spend online, a significant chunk is spent playing games. With around 37 million gamers in the UK, children are perhaps more exposed than you might think. Unfortunately, it also opens up another avenue where young people are finding themselves victim to online bullying.

Looking out for gamers

Online gaming should be a release for young people, where they can switch off from their day at school and immerse themselves in a game for a few hours. It should not be a place where they can find themselves being targeted by online bullies. The hard truth, however, is bullying does not stop at the school gates. Recent research has in fact revealed that one in two young online gamers suffer from bullying, which is deeply concerning.

Online gaming, with its millions of users, also highlights another issue; stranger danger. Children won’t always know who they are talking to and playing with; adult gamers can hide behind their avatars and build up relationships with child gamers, pretending to be someone they’re not. As well as hiding behind these personas for purposes such as grooming and radicalisation, they can also use this to send horrible messages and bully young users.

So what can be done to tackle this?

It can’t be left just to parents to protect their children online; it needs to be shared with teachers and schools to both educate and monitor children’s online gaming activity in the school environment and at home.

It is the responsibility of schools to take a smart, proactive approach to monitoring child safety online in order to protect children in all environments. As the web has become the norm in classrooms, teachers and staff have to play a part to make sure pupils are protected from online bullies. Many kids will see web monitoring as an irritant, and with their tech savvy ways, find routes to bypass filters and gain access to games in school. It’s therefore so important that schools, staff and parents have the knowledge and tools to protect children fully.

Tech savvy kids

This generation of children are truly digitally clued-up, with six year olds having the same understanding of technology as 45 year olds, and so web filters alone will not stop young people reaching or receiving harmful material. What needs to be done to protect children’s online experience is to use technology to work for you, not against you. Using a context aware web filter will allow you to restrict and control what is posted onto the web from your network and block certain pages based on the content, but still allow access to certain search terms that could aid in a child’s development.

We would urge governing bodies and proprietors to not only ensure they have the most appropriate web filtering in place, but the appropriate monitoring in place too. While it’s not possible to completely eradicate cyberbullying, if schools have both the smartest filtering and monitoring in action, then they have a layered defence to help protect children from all kinds of nasty threats online.

How we tackle bullying in online gaming is by being honest and accepting that it’s no longer possible to lay the responsibility solely at home with the parents. If we are to truly help young people from the kind of bullying that is so prevalent in the cyber world and online gaming, everyone who has a part to play with a child’s development and safety that should take an active role in protecting them from malicious online activity. That includes schools, teachers and parents.

Online safety isn’t a game, and certainly not one that should be played alone.

Smoothwall is a specialist developer and provider of Internet security and web filtering solutions.


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