Heather Cardwell is an online safety lead, phase five leader, and acting assistant headteacher. During her career, she has trained school staff and parents in online safety, implemented online safety practices in schools, and has developed bespoke online safety policies that have been rolled out to her local network of educational settings. In this piece, she has outlined her best practices for engaging parents in their children’s online safety.
As educators, we know the importance of working as a team to ensure the safety of the children in our care. However, this is far easier said than done. It often feels like the parents and carers who do engage in online safety – the ones on the front row at the parent workshops or the first to like your tweet about the pros and cons of a recent app – are the ones who keep engaging.
However, there are many reasons why parents and carers don’t engage with online safety. There are those who are terrified of technology and almost ‘stick their head in the sand’ when it comes to looking after their children online. They believe that their children know so much more about being online than they do and therefore feel like the race is already lost - there is nothing they can do to help.
Then there are others who model unhealthy online behaviours themselves and therefore can’t see any wrong in what their children are doing. In either case, engaging these families is a tricky task and what works for one school’s families may not work for another. Here are some ideas that you can try to ensure that you are trying the best you can to encourage everyone to work as a team.
Online safety courses
The scope of online safety is vast and so it is important that families have access to quality, relevant training.
In the same way that it is hard for staff at school to keep up to date with current trends, it is also hard for parents and carers.
In the event of a lack of online safety information, they may search for advice themselves and come across misinformation which could be potentially damaging, especially if they go on to share this themselves.
Ideally, online safety training should be in short chunks, easy to navigate, and be available at a time convenient in our parents’ and carers’ busy schedules. Giving them access to an online training course that satisfies these criteria means that you are taking into consideration families’ individual needs and providing them with the tools they need to tackle online safety at home.
Leaflet drops before and after school
If there is a particular app or game that is prevalent at your school, it might be worth handing out platform guides before and after school.
Some people may be more likely to read information that has been physically handed to them rather than reading it electronically and then at home it might be kept for future reference. Getting your School Council or your Online Safety ambassadors involved is a great way of spreading the message to as many people as you can.
Drip feeding information for parents and carers will ensure that the little and often approach will keep information fresh in their minds.
Even just hearing the app name may jog a memory that your school has tweeted advice about it and they then know where to turn to for advice. Using other methods of electronic communication can also be useful such as attaching information to newsletters or posting on other social media channels and emails.
Although online courses are preferable to many parents and carers due to their flexibility, some people prefer to attend a face-to-face meeting where they can ask an expert questions specific to their child.
Depending on your school, this may not be the best use of time - delivering an hour’s online safety training to two parents would mean that their specific needs were met, but many parents wouldn’t be engaged. If the parent uptake of activities at your school is high, then this may be a useful way to reach your target audience.
Learning with the children
Inviting your families into school to learn, to take part in your online safety lessons with the children, is a great way to learn together and to build relationships between school and home.
Children are always eager to share their learning with their family and learning together can be a bonding experience.
With both the children and the adults hearing the same message, it increases the possibility of it being implemented and reiterated at home.
Involving children in making explainer videos
Get your children involved in making explainer videos about games and apps the children at your school are accessing. Giving them ownership of this means that not only their peers are more likely to listen to it, but also parents will be more encouraged to have a look themselves.
Tagging information on the back of another event
If you are finding it hard to encourage parents and carers to come into school for workshops specifically relating to online safety, it’s a good idea to tag it onto something that they do come into school for.
Tagging important online safety messages onto the start or end of an event only needs to last a couple of minutes but it will ensure that you have a ready-made audience with some parents and carers that are hard to reach listening to your message.
Events such as class assemblies, festivals and performances are all ideal for this. Other times that adults are at school such as fayres and parents’ evenings also offer the opportunity to supply families with other materials such as posters and platform guides.
Nurture a ‘team’ ethos
Overall, making sure that parents and carers understand that we are united together in keeping children safe online is critical.
Families need to know and be able to trust that they can come into school with any issues or worries without fear of being judged. This can only be achieved by making them aware that we are all in this together. They don’t need school to be lecturing them about what they should and shouldn’t allow their children to do online and this will only disengage parents.
Solving online safety issues needs to be a two-way street with families understanding that school will do all in their power to help resolve online issues in the same way that school relies on those at home to reinforce the messages from school and be vigilant in terms of their children’s online activity.
How can National Online Safety help?
National Online Safety is an award-winning hub of online safety resources dedicated to empowering the whole school community to stay safe online.
Boasting a wealth of courses, webinars, guides, and explainer videos, we are committed to providing essential training and support to school leaders, teachers, students, and parents.