Parents are our first teachers. They are uniquely placed to respond to individual needs; they are powerful example setters and so should be viewed as key players in teaching and learning. This has never been more the case than with online (e-safety) education.
Many parents and the proportion will only rise, are already experienced users of social media and social networking. Facebook, quickly followed by MySpace and BeBo burst on to the cyber scene in 2004. Many of your pupils’ parents were young adults then, and they were the eager and naïve early adopters of social networking. Many of these parents have gone on to use Flickr, Twitter, Four Square Instagram… Most without incident or indeed a huge amount of e-safety guidance or education. And, of course, there are also many parents of school-aged children who are older and it all passed them by. Or they didn’t get on board the social media bandwagon for social or cultural reasons.
They are lots of parents who don’t ‘get’, don’t use or don’t understand social networking. How then do we engage parents in online safety education? How do we persuade the tech-savvy, experienced social networking parent that there might be things going on in the digital world that they don’t know about? How do we convince the uninitiated, and the technophobes, that understanding online culture will make their children safer?
Provide Information in manageable chunks
Have an online or e-safety area on the school website. In addition to your policy documents, outline what pupils learn about e-safety in school. Provide links to helpful advice and guidance.For example: www.thinkuknow.co.uk www.saferinternet.org.uk www.childnet.com
Drip feed information
Make e-safety a regular item of the Head’s newsletter. Write about the positive things that parents can do to help keep children safe online as well as highlighting concerns.
Digital Parenting Magazine
Published by Vodafone Digital Parenting has a fantastic range of articles aimed at parents. While stocks last, you can order enough hard copies for all your families for free. Or provide a link to the .pdf on the school website or in other school communications. http://www.vodafone.com/content/digital-parenting/learning-and-fun/digital-parenting-magazine.html
Lead by example
Make the school’s Twitter or Facebook page an example of good e-safety practice. Only allow parents/carers known to the school to comment. Don’t identify pupils. Keep posts professional…
Take part in Safer Internet Day.
This year’s theme is ‘Be the change: Unite for a better internet’ and takes place on Tuesday 7th February. https://www.saferinternetday.org/web/united-kingdom/sid
Hold an Online Safety Event
I have spoken at many parents’ events; basing my presentation around an overview of the different online technologies that young people use, why the use them, what the risks are and how parents can help their children manage those risks. Getting parents to attend can be difficult, but there are things that schools can do to maximise the likelihood of a good turnout. Not all of these suggestions applicable in your school. You know your pupils’ parents – adapt and amend as appropriate.
Make it easy to attend
Is an evening event ideal? If a lot of your parents drop off in the morning and pick up after school holding a session in the morning or for the last hour of the school day might work. They are coming to school anyway. Is it the right time of year? It’s cold and dark in January, and bad weather really can keep the most eager of parents tucked up at home. And provide a crèche so that parents don’t have to worry about a babysitter
Think about the competition
Are we in the throes of an epic East Enders’ dénouement? Is it the World Cup or European Championships or Wimbledon final? It is worth considering the sporting calendar and checking out the TV schedules.
Remember - Computers are scary
Lots of people are put off by the thought that the session might involve them having to do something ‘techie’. Just the idea of having to use a computer will terrify some parents. So rather than the school’s ICT/Computing leader promoting online safety make it a Safeguarding issue (it is a safeguarding issue) and have the PSHE coordinator or Safeguarding lead championing the event. Emphasise that the fact that session is not about them using IT! It’s about keeping their pupils safe.Or have the PTA or ‘Friends’ Association take the lead so that the event is about parents helping other parents rather than the school telling parents what to do. You could even tie the session in with a charity cake sale or coffee morning.
Nag! Nag! Nag!
Just as with any other school-based activity you will need to tell parents about the event many times and in many different ways: an item in the Headteacher’s Newsletter, letters to parents and an item on the school website. Use social media. If as a school you don’t use FB or Twitter are they a couple of well-connected parents that could post/tweet about the event on the schools’ behalf? Use the school's text alerts service if you have one. And nothing beats the personal touch – school staff actively talking to parents about the event and explaining why it’s important that parents attend. Physically handing a flier to every parent who comes into the school and taking the time to chat can be very powerful.
Get the children involved in promoting the event – could every child design and make an invitation or write a letter asking their parents to attend? Display pupil designed posters anywhere parents will see them. Some of the best-attended parents’ sessions have been where pupils were involved in the first part of the presentation. A short (10 – 15 mins) drama production is sure to get the parents of the actors attending! This approach works best with small cohorts – one or two classes. Do a ‘flashmob’ in the playground at going home time to promote the event. It will certainly attract attention!
Be (a bit) provocative
No children please – the session will include some ‘adult content’. (I showed a clip from Grand Theft Auto that wasn’t appropriate for ten-year-olds!) Find out about your pupils' online activities – do a survey (older children could help design it) and tell parents that you will share the results at the session.
There are a growing number of schools that hold an e-safety evening for parents every year or two. Attendance tends to improve over time as the word goes round about how useful the session was.