Selfies and self-esteem: whose responsibility?

Emma and CharlotteBy Emma Robertson, Co-founder, Digital Awareness UK

The digital landscape is constantly evolving and e-safety strategies in schools are having to adapt and mould as a result.

It's a difficult time for schools, with so many stories in the headlines about students getting themselves involved in sexting and cyber bullying scams (often on school grounds). But it's also tricky for schools to keep up with the latest digital trends and ensure they feel empowered to effectively educate themselves, their students and parents effectively on e-safety.

To support them with this task Digital Awareness UK has built a team of industry established YouTubers, hackers, developers, bloggers etc - people who love, live and breathe digital and social media to help teachers to inspire young people to want to use social media safely.

Speaking the same language

Much of the current online safety culture is a bit scaremongering. We come in to schools in a very positive way and use that to land some serious messages.

We make digital literacy and online safety sessions fun and interactive and encourage a good debate. We know that kids love Instagram and Snapchat and we leverage that to get conversations going about selfies and self-esteem.

Kids are incredibly savvy when it comes to technology; it can be intimidating for adults, so we make the most of students’ skills. They can lead assemblies or present an e-safety ‘top 10 trends’ analysis in assemblies. Peer-to-peer learning is effective - students prefer to get advice from other young people.

The most effective way to convey digital literacy messages is through real-life case studies on various topics, such as sexting. When we share case studies and students can relate to them, they really start to ask questions. Then we turn the classroom into a courtroom, with a team on each side and a ‘judge’ in middle. They don’t get to choose which side they’re on. They learn that there are two sides to every story and whoever has the best argument wins.

Debates are really effective. Young people like to get their opinions across and it’s good for them to hear what others have to say and have an honest conversation.

For teachers

We offer teachers Continuing Professional Development courses to improve their knowledge of digital literacy and e-safety issues. We share our insights and it helps teachers to stay on top of the latest trends if they’re feeling overwhelmed.

We also advise them on integrating the issues that we discuss into the curriculum and if the school has an e-safety committee - and lots do - made up of people from pastoral, safeguarding and ICT teams, we recommend including students for a two-way conversation.

Now, we always include a section for teachers on protecting yourself. We’re seeing a huge trend of teachers as victims of hacking and cyber bullying with students hacking in to teachers’ Facebook accounts, taking photos of teachers and posting them online and even setting up fake profiles. Around 30% of our time is spent on these cases.

To combat the trend, schools need to produce a social media policy if they don’t already have one. There are simple steps teachers can take too, such as adjusting their privacy settings and being mindful that if you post an embarrassing photo, it could have serious repercussions.

In addition to ensuring teachers have signed and understood a social media policy it's essential that training is delivered to help them understand the ins and outs of that policy. Often these policies are lengthy, with lots of jargon so it's so important that they are clearly understood and teachers have the opportunity to ask questions about them.

For parents

Our work with parents and carers includes running coffee mornings with updates on the latest e-safety and digital literacy trends. We also offer advice on preventing risks and discipline at home, including guidance on ‘netiquette’ - how to behave online.

A lot of adults are concerned with the impact of social media on young people’s communication skills. Recently, for example, as part of the digital literacy curriculum, we encouraged students to think about when it is or isn't appropriate to ignore those around you and use technology instead - is it acceptable to always have your devices on the table at dinner times? When is it ok to cut someone off during a conversation to take a picture of something and post it on Instagram?

We remind parents that we see examples of poor netiquette among adults - like using your phone at a restaurant. This is massively amplified among young people. In some cases, parents tell their kids not to second screen and it hasn’t occurred to them that they do the same thing.

Digital Awareness UK is trying to ensure that everyone is adequately educated. It has to begin in the home, but be backed up by schools. Instilling good online behaviour is the responsibility of anyone who comes into contact with children.

Three e-safety tips
      1. As a school, try to be proactive rather than reactive. Take a step back and consider the e-safety vision for the coming year.
      2. Make sure your school’s e-safety policy is written in plain English and used in dedicated Continuing Professional Development sessions - it helps teachers to understand the issues.
      3. No school can be too prepared when it comes to an e-safety crisis. It’s not enough to simply pass it on to the Safeguarding officer.

      About Emma Robertson
      With over 10 years experience working as a social media strategist, Emma has managed the online reputations of a number of high profile brands- from Coca-Cola to Barclays to Microsoft. She has delivered multiple award winning, globally recognised campaigns for corporations seeking to engage audiences online. Her relationships with key social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube allow her access to the latest developments and trends in social media. Emma is co founder of Digital Awareness UK with her sister Charlotte. They campaign to improve e-safety standard in the media and schools across the UK.

      About Digital Awareness UK
      Established in London, Digital Awareness UK helps students, teachers and parents to improve e-safety standards. The team is made up of hackers, PR professionals and YouTubers. Through workshops, assemblies, social media policy creation and reputation management, the organisation is working towards the creation of a nation of safe, smart internet users.

      Follow Digital Awareness UK on Twitter: @DigitalSisters #DigiSisters.