Last Updated on 16th December 2022

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Hello and welcome to our festive edition of Safeguarding Soundbites. I’m Colin Stitt, Head of Safer Schools at Ineqe Safeguarding Group and as always, I’ll be talking about the latest in safeguarding news and in this Christmas-special episode, how you can help safeguard children and young people receiving technology presents from Santa this Christmas. Everything from phones to gaming devices, so let’s get into it.

Twitter is in the news again with more moderation concerns after the social media platform dispersed their Trust and Safety Council. The council was made up of around 100 independent researchers and human rights activists and played a key role in advising Twitter on issues such as online safety, child sexual abuse materials and suicide prevention. The dissolvement came after three key members of the council resigned due to their concerns about the decline of the safety and wellbeing of Twitter users since Elon Must took over the platform.

Meanwhile, YouTube is taking action to tackle abusive comments from users. They’re introducing several new steps, including a ‘nudge’ feature that will notify users if their comment is potentially abusive, plus a 24-hour ban if someone continues to post abusive comments. Like many online platforms, YouTube has struggled to curtail hateful and spam commenting. In the first six months of 2022, they removed over one billion spam comments. The platform has said their goal is to protect creators from users trying to negatively impact the community and to offer more transparency to users who may have had comments removed.

New research has linked too much screen time to higher odds for developing obsessive compulsive disorder. The study by UC San Francisco found that young peoples’ risk of developing OCD increased by 13% for every hour spent playing video games, over a two-year period. The author of the research warned parents that excessive screen time can have a detrimental impact on the mental health of young people.

Schools in Northern Ireland are being encouraged to teach lessons on gambling and gaming awareness. CCEA have created new resources for pupils aged 11 to 14-years old and cover topics such as scratch cards and betting in online gaming. With just under 40% of young people in the U.K. participating in forms of gambling between 2020-21, it’s important that children and young people are taught the risks and when to step away, both in the classroom and at home.

Now, If the child or young person in your care has asked for a new digital device to appear under the tree on Christmas morning, there’s more to do than just the wrapping! Giving the gift of a device is giving much more than just the phone or gaming console or smart watch itself. It’s giving access to the entire online world and everything – and everyone – that’s on it. So as our gift to you this Christmas, we’ve put together some top tips on how to safely give Santa’s digital gifts.

First and foremost is communication. From the moment they unwrap their new gift, introduce the topic of staying safer online. Whether you’re talking about safety settings, interacting with strangers or game suitability, open communication is going to be key. Just as you talk about school, in-real-life friendships, and hobbies, you need to establish open lines of communication about the online world. From asking how the latest game raid went, what they’re up to on their favourite app and how their online friends are, you want them to know they can talk to you openly and honestly about what they experience online.

It’s important that you make sure you’re taking advantage of all the features and safety options available to you. Turn on safe search filters on your broadband provider and on the device, use the safety settings on apps and games, and enable parental control features. Again, discussing why you’re doing this is crucial. And don’t install parental controls apps or features without their knowledge – you risk losing their trust and then they may not feel comfortable coming to you about online issues in the future.

Talk to the child or young person in your care about kindness. The online world can be a harsh place – let’s help the next generation change that by instilling the importance of spreading kindness online. Also make sure your child knows what to do when they see other people bullying online. Teach them how to report and block – and to come talk to you or another trusted adult when they see something that worries or upsets them online. Remember kindness costs nothing.

Screen time, well its important to agree on limits – realistic ones of course! We’re all guilty of spending too much time on our phones so why not make your family’s new year resolution to spend a bit more time in the offline world? We know excessive screen time can be detrimental so it’s best to set up boundaries from the start- and also role model that to the children and young people around us.

Although it’s a modern-day tradition to share photos of the family enjoying Christmas day, remember to be careful with what you share – and to teach your child to do the same! Get everyone in the habit of checking their photos before uploading: is there anything that gives away your address? Their school? Or starts to build a story about their hobbies, lifestyle, and habits? All of this information has the potential to be misused.

So when you’re giving the gift of a device this Christmas, make sure you’re also giving the gift of cyber resilience and safeguarding know-how.
You can find more details on all of these tips plus more in our article and on our shareable, which you can find on the Safer Schools NI App – so make sure you check them out before gifting any type of tech this Christmas, and remember, you can download the Safer Schools NI App for free right now via your device’s app store.

That’s everything from me. We want to take a minute to say thank you for all your support this year, on behalf of Ineqe Safeguarding Group we hope you have a great Christmas holiday and we’ll be back in 2023 with more essential safeguarding news and advice. Remember you can follow us on our social media by searching for ‘Safer Schools NI’. Take care and speak to you next year!

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