Last Updated on 6th January 2023

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Hello and welcome to the very first Safeguarding Soundbites of 2023 – I hope you had a fantastic Christmas and from all of us here at Safer Schools NI, Happy New Year! As we pack away the tinsel and finish off the mince pies, we’re looking to the year ahead and how we can continue to work together as a community to create a better, safer digital world for our children and young people. As always, we’re also going to take a look at what’s been hitting the headlines in safeguarding news, so let’s start 2023 like we mean to go on and get stuck in!

New research has found that frequent checking of social media by young people could cause brain development changes. The findings come from a three-year study of over 170 adolescents and found that children may become more sensitive to feedback from their peers due to frequent and increased social media use. Nearly 80% of participants checked their devices at hourly intervals each day.
Teenage years are a crucial time for brain development and with this study showing that social media use could influence young people’s sensitivity to social feedback, it’s important to think about screen time use. And, of course, it’s the perfect time of year to start new, healthy habits! Search the Safer Schools NI App to find information and advice on healthy screen time habits. And if you haven’t got the app, don’t worry! It’s available for free on your phone or device’s app store.

And speaking of resolutions, we’ve put together five new year resolution ideas for the whole family, all designed to help you have a safer 2023 online. Check the Safer Schools NI App or visit our website at saferschoolsni.co.uk to find our New Year, New Digital Resolutions suggestions.

As children and young people start back to school, parents are being reminded to keep their children off school, should they show signs of illness, such as fever or feeling unwell. The advice comes amidst a rise in cases of Covid-19, flu, and strep A. Check the NHS website for more information on signs to look out for and advice on what to do and how to keep yourself and your children safe.

Social media moderators have anonymously spoken out concerning working conditions that could result in safeguarding failings. The whistle-blowers have revealed they are expected to check an unrealistic amount of content per day, which could result in harmful content being missed and viewed by children or young people. In an eight-hour shift, moderators say they are expected to watch 40 hours’ worth of video – up to 1,700 videos.
The social media moderators have also spoken out about concerns regarding the extreme materials that platforms allow to be published and that users might feel encouraged to post more and more extreme violent and sexual materials as it generates more attention – and often, more money.

New research has shown that virtual reality games might help in the early diagnosis of conditions such as autism and ADHD. Researchers found that VR games, combined with eye tracking and machine learning systems, could potentially recognise key signs of neurodivergence. This includes differences in eye movements, dealing with distractions and task performance. Researchers also hope that VR tech could be used in the future as an aid to ADHD rehabilitation.

Here in NI, the Education Authority is being faced with financial struggles, as it must find savings of £100 million. Despite extra funding being allocated for education in the November budget, increasing costs are putting a strain on educational services throughout the country. Youth services are also likely to be impacted, including community youth centres.

Looking ahead to 2023, we’ve got plenty of exciting things happening here at Safer Schools NI. We will be launching a picture book and interactive video resource to help introduce social media safety to the children in your care. We’re also looking forward to Safer Internet Day in February when we’ll be bringing you lots of great content about how to keep saferstay safe online. News wise, we’ll be keeping our eyes on the Online Safety Bill as it continues to pass through parliament – you can find out more about the bill by searching saferschoolsni.co.uk for ‘online safety bill’ or by finding it on your app.

So that is our first episode of 2023 finished. We want this to be the biggest year yet for Safeguarding Soundbites also we’d love for you to share this episode with friends, family and colleagues so we can all work together to keep the children and young people in our care safer online.
That’s all from us this week, we’ll be back next week with more news, advice, and alerts. Thank you for tuning in and I’ll speak to you next week!

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