The internet is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity. We all live our lives online and children are no exception. Last year, according to Ofcom, nearly all five to 15-year-olds in the UK – 97 per cent – used the internet. Being digitally connected has many benefits for young people, from improving digital literacy and problem-solving, to staying in touch with friends and family and learning vital everyday skills. There are apps that teach children about money management, or how to expand their vocabulary, or inspire them to build brilliant real-life Lego models.
But we need to make sure young people have the tools and information they need to have a safe experience online.
That’s why we at Parent Zone partnered with Google to develop Be Internet Legends; a five-pronged educational programme to teach children aged seven to 11, and their parents, how to stay safer online.
Embedded into school curriculums with lesson plans for teachers, it involves a blend of online and real-life learning. This includes virtual assemblies where experts come to schools to give talks, activities for parents such as live sessions and a “parent’s page” where they can ask questions, and an animated game called Interland, where students go on an adventure to learn about different aspects of internet safety.
Since launching in March 2018, more than four million UK pupils have been trained in nearly three quarters of UK primary schools. 80 percent of children who have experienced Be Internet Legends now feel more confident about getting help if they need it.
The programme is really multifaceted and that’s what makes it so powerful. There is a full curriculum that teachers can use in schools but on top of this, it has events, games and live sessions to increase engagement in a subject that children can very easily turn off from.
Be Internet Legends is underpinned by five core pillars of learning: Be Internet Sharp, encouraging children to think before they share things they read online; Be Internet Alert, to spot signs of a scam; Be Internet Secure, to protect personal information; Be Internet Kind, to respect each other; and Be Internet Brave, to encourage kids to talk to adults about their experiences.
Rather than focusing on one issue, such as over-sharing, it aims to take a more systemic approach. We want children to have everything they need to tackle risks online. The thread through it all is media literacy – the ability to understand the digital world and make informed choices about its risks.
A #LegendOfTheMonth award incentivises schools with prizes, while home learning elements like online quizzes engage parents and encourage them to discuss internet safety with their children. Danielle Wood, deputy headteacher at Raglan Primary School in Bromley, London, says this has helped children talk about things that could be troubling them.
“The whole process really got the children to engage with their parents and gave them a way in to talk about their thoughts and feelings on different aspects of online safety,” she says. “This is really important for us – opening up those conversations at home are vital so that parents can support their children to use strategies and skills learned in school to navigate situations they face online.”
The programme was developed alongside clinical psychologists and organisations such as the Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) Association and is updated monthly with feedback from teachers and parents to keep up with changing trends. The combination of skills and behaviour-focused sections helps to create a resilience-based and holistic approach, which looks at not only encouraging children to spot risks but also to take an active role in creating a more nurturing online environment for everyone.
I’m pleased that Parent Zone has also been able to inject excitement into the subject matter and give it a sense of authority. It’s really difficult to achieve credibility with young people because they tend to look at adults, such as teachers and parents, as being less well-informed about the internet than they are. They think of themselves as real experts in digital spaces. By partnering with Google, we cut through that to deliver a credible message and get children to listen.
The digital world is changing at pace and is every bit as complex as the offline world. We have a responsibility to make sure that children have safe experiences but also that they benefit from the opportunities the internet brings. Building families’ trust in the internet is fundamental. Programmes like Be Internet Legends help to make navigating the online world a little easier for children, and hopefully, more enjoyable.
Vicki Shotbolt is CEO at Parent Zone.