What are the key online safety concerns for ‘back to school’?

Weeks into the first term of school, your child might need time to settle back into school mode.

Our expert panel is on hand with advice on what you can do to support them.

See our back to school guides to keep children safe all year long.

How can I equip my child to deal with cyberbullying?

School is a time to grapple with the meaning of friendship and where you fit in. Your child will have the same anxieties – but it’s also likely they’ll think about their online popularity and how they interact with their peer group online.

At the secondary level, children might be setting up social network accounts for the first time. As such, they will face some tricky issues such as how much to share of themselves and what people might do with that information.

Even if you don’t feel that tech savvy, you can help:

  • Talk about what should remain private and precious and what they can comfortably share.
  • Talk about what makes a good friend – whether on or offline.
  • Focus on kindness and respect and how to handle conflict both on and offline.
  • Most importantly let them know that if something goes wrong, and they think they’re being bullied – whether on or offline – you are there to help.

Explore our cyberbullying conversation guide for more support.

John Carr

Online Safety Expert
Expert Website

How do schools manage smartphone use?

A great many teachers regard smartphones as a curse. They are generally small enough to hide without any difficulty, and the range of apps and connectivity options mean it is easy to imagine how they might become a source of great distraction when pupils ought to pay attention to other matters.

When mobiles first started appearing in schools, some schools tried to ban them altogether. However, these devices have become integral to how modern families operate. As such, a more sophisticated line has emerged: if a phone rings or is used during lessons or Assembly, teachers will confiscate it. This might last for a lesson or the day. Sometimes a parent is required to attend to collect the phone. That makes sure they know what their son or daughter has been up to!

And if a school believe that a mobile phone might contain images or content related to bullying, abuse or any other harm, they (or the police) can seize the phone as evidence.

Will Gardner

Director, UK Safer Internet Centre, coordinators of Safer Internet Day and CEO, Childnet
Expert Website

How do I manage the transition onto social media?

A key time to talk about social media is when children start secondary school. As new friendship groups form in school, so do they develop online.

Children often feel pressure to join social networks, despite the fact that apps like TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat have a minimum age of 13. Children using those services are likely to connect with lots of new friends, and they need to ensure they only connect with people they know in person. You should also ensure they make use of in-built privacy settings.

Furthermore, with friendships changing, cyberbullying and digital drama could occur.

There is often this pressure to exclude or bully others, and they may find themselves on the receiving end of such behaviour. It’s important that children know to seek help from an adult and report on social networks. If you as a parent need support, then the school can be a real help here.

Carmel Glassbrook

Helpline Practitioner, Professionals Online Safety Helpline
Expert Website

How big of an issue is sexting in secondary schools?

“I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” is a natural and important part of childhood development. However, kids are now doing that with their phones rather than behind the bike shed.

Sending sexual images underage has led to an increase in ‘self-generated’ child sexual abuse material online, especially among 11-13-year-olds.

Parents need to have open and transparent conversations with their children about sex and sexting. It’s crucial to not fly off the handle if anything does happen. If your child feels comfortable to tell you, that’s the biggest part of your job done!

If images find their way online there is nearly always a way to remove them, especially children under 18 since these are illegal images.

The law about indecent images was created in the 70s before mobiles were even thought of, however. So, it can’t possibly take into account that children would be rapidly creating ‘indecent images’ of themselves.

Thankfully, the NCA created an outcome code that means police can still help but do not have to criminalise kids. The most important focus in these situations should not be about the images but the emotional support the children involved get.

No child wants their parent to see or even think they might take a sexual image. So, be kind, be understanding and try to put yourself in their position; it’s still the same behaviour as years ago, it’s just the tech that’s changed.

If you need to get sexual images of children removed, use the Report Remove Tool.