Children's online safety - whose responsibility?


Once again children’s online safety has been in the news. While government tackles the tech giants, we caught up with Helen Westerman, NSPCC Campaigns Manager for North of England. She is running a workshop in All Hallows, Allerton on 3rd October to help adults understand the online world children inhabit and how to deal with the fallout if things go wrong.
 
We’re the first Church of England diocese to engage with the NSPCC in this matter and Helen believes it critically important that all organisations which play a pivotal role in families’ and children’s lives should be informed about how to help children stay safe online. She told us: 
“The church plays an important part by leading by example both for their leaders – those who run children’s activities within their church and for the people in the congregation who look after children in whatever capacity.
 
“For some, the online world is a scary place, they’re not too sure what they should or can do. It’s not good enough for adults to say they don’t understand it so they bury their heads in the sand. You don’t need to be any prior knowledge to come along to the workshop. It’s easy to think you’re on the back foot with the latest technology and even if you know the latest app you may learn something about keeping a child safe.”
 
She’s adamant that giving parents and carers the confidence to talk to children is key: 
“It’s not only important to talk to children about the online risks but also about what they enjoy. If children do come to you with a query or tell you about something that is difficult to hear you need to keep your response calm and don’t challenge them or pass judgement. Hitting the roof and then banning all devices may not help the situation and actually may make children feel they can’t turn to you if they are sent inappropriate content or being bullied online.” 
 
Helen says the workshop gives practical tips and information about where to find help if you’re struggling with the latest technology. And that it’s okay not be to the expert but you do need to be prepared to learn from children. This is something which Sue Mitchell, Children and Families Missioner totally agrees with. She’s asking anyone who works with children to come along to the workshop. Sue asks, 
“How well equipped are you for leading your children and young people’s groups? You may have read the books for starting them off. You may have the craft kit, the games, the music, but just how knowledgeable are you on the world our children and young people inhabit today?
 
“Our children’s world that is certainly not the same world that many of us grew up in or even began our work with children in. How familiar are you with social media and its impact on the children you work with?”
 
She reminds us of the Bible verse in Proverbs 22:6, ‘Start children off in the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.’ A piece of scripture was chosen especially to underpin all that we offer through our series of Diocesan Open the Box training sessions. 
 
“Attending this session shouldn’t be something you say: ‘it’s not for me, it doesn’t affect my work.’ This issue is not something we can choose to ignore and as someone who is involved with children this information needs to be a vital part of your toolkit when leading your group. she encourages you to attend so you can discover what you can do to ‘Start children off in the right way’.

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