The Benefits of Working Together With Our Kids' School to Promote Online Safety

May 9, 2017

I’m a strong believer that the things we teach children in school (in regards to online safety) should be replicated at home; after all, if we have different rules and education at home and at school then children may become confused and therefore the educational impact is negligible.

As a very simple example, one of the basic principles we teach children is that they shouldn’t share images of others online if there is somebody else in the image, unless we ask their permission first. Not only is this ‘safe’ practice for lots of different reasons, it’s also respectful and ethical practice.

A few months ago I was asked to deliver a series of internet safety sessions in a school with children ranging from 7-11 years. I wanted these 50-minute sessions to be fun, real and impactful:

  • Fun – a fun lesson is much better than one that scares children; that may sound obvious, but I see so many resources being created and used that scare children both at school and at home; we don’t (or shouldn’t) educate by fear. For many, fear is shown to have a short-term impact, for a very small number there may be emotional trauma.
  • Real – for very young children, cartoons and animations have their place, but if you talk to children about the real things they are doing it makes much more sense to them; they can apply what they are learning much easier to real life activities.
  • Impactful – applying both of the above points, the impact on learning is much greater than just talking about all the bad things that might happen.

Going back to my sessions with the children, I decided to do something I called ‘Safe Selfies’. The idea being that I would show the children a series of photographs (selfies), and they would have to give a thumbs up or a thumbs down whether this was safe to share online or not. Importantly, they had to give a reason why!

The ‘real’ aspect was that all children know what a selfie is, and the majority of children take and share selfies. The ‘fun’ aspect was that all the photos were of me at various stages throughout my life from a young child through to present day. The children, the teachers and myself had great fun, laughing about the various fashion choices and hairstyles through the years.

I started off the lesson asking where the children shared their photos (great intelligence for the teachers to be aware of the latest apps and services being used) and then I started showing individual photos:

The first was my sister and myself at a very young age; I gave them 10 seconds to think about the image, what and who was in it, then they had to give a thumbs up or a thumbs down. Most of the children stated that the photo shouldn’t be shared online unless I had permission from my sister to do so. Brilliant!!

The second was a photo of me in a foreign country; this was from my time in the Royal Navy, I happened to be standing in front of a sign stating where I was. Most of the children had thumbs down for this one. They stated that somebody would know where I was and might come and get me. It’s very common to hear this from children. The point here is that whilst the theory is correct, the context is vitally important. Why would somebody come and get me in another country? Would I share a photo stood in front of my house with a street name and house number on it? What if I was in school uniform? This very simple conversation applies significant context but also shows teachers where there may be weak areas of understanding. The reality that ‘somebody is going to find me or where I live’ is tiny, but it’s still a risk, albeit a very low one, so it still needs to be explained.

It went on like this for the lesson, going through various scenarios. Lots of the children had wide and varied thoughts and opinions which allowed for lots of discussions. For the older children, we also touched on phone location settings too.

So what was the point of this? The point was the impact, let me explain.

By talking about ‘safe selfies’, children knew exactly what we were talking about because it’s something they actually do, to one extent or another. But equally, the theory and practice of sharing images safely apply across so many other aspects of sharing online, being respectful, thinking of others, critical thinking, digital footprint and so much more.

Later that day the school had also asked me to do a session with parents. What was heartwarming was that many of the children had gone home and told parents what they had learnt and the fun they had. This led into questions from parents as to why children had been taught certain things which was great, it allowed me to apply context to their learning and allowed parents to adopt the same strategies for use at home. The lessons I did at the school could easily be adopted at home with the family photo album.

And this is the point I’m making; whatever children are learning in school must be adopted at home as well; children need to learn to apply the same, usually very simple principles and strategies wherever they are in order to reduce and mitigate any potential risks of harm. I would always advise schools share with parents what the children have been learning, and why. This is one of the reasons why I created the free DITTO magazine ( ), which talks about the latest opinion, risks, and issues so that schools and parents can learn about the same things and keep up to date together.

If you’re a parent and you’re thinking you have no idea what the children are taught in regards to online safety, ask them. Of the hundreds of schools I have worked with, every single one of them is keen to share that information with their parents.

It’s about working together to benefit all our children.

Written by

Alan Mackenzie

Alan Mackenzie is an online safety specialist from the United Kingdom who works with children, young people, parents, schools, charities and more to empower the safe and fun use of technology. 

“Online safety has been a passion of mine for a very long time. I love technology and the huge benefits that can be realized through global connectivity and collaboration. For me, online safety is about reducing the risk of harm through good education, not scaremongering!”