Relationships and Sexuality Education

Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE)

Internet Safety

Children and young people today are growing up in a digital world. They need support now, more than ever before, to develop the skills they need to navigate safely though the digital landscape, both at home and in school.

They need to be able to balance technology’s benefits with a critical awareness of their own and others’ online behaviour, and develop effective strategies for staying safe and making a positive contribution online.

Teachers and parents/carers also need to develop effective strategies for managing online risk, helping children and young people to stay safe, while maximising the benefits that technology has to offer. Online safety is a whole-school issue that should be addressed in school internet policies and in other policies such as the anti-bullying policy (cyberbullying).

Cyberbullying, online grooming, access to inappropriate images and sexting are just some of the ways in which digital technology can negatively impact on children’s and young people’s lives.

The Children’s Code came into force on 2 September 2020. Organisations need to conform with it by 2 September 2021. This code is designed to protect children in the digital world by providing high privacy settings by default, switching off geolocation services and not using push notifications to encourage children to give up more personal data. See the Information Commissioner's Office page What is the Children's Code? for more details.

Ofcom figures show that a third of 12–15 year olds and 18% of 8–11 year olds say they have seen something worrying or nasty online (Children and parents: Media use and attitudes report 2019). To safeguard children and young people, it’s essential that teachers and parents/carers educate them about staying safe online and what they should do if something goes wrong.

This area of the RSE Hub signposts to resources and guidance information for teachers, parents/carers, and children and young people on internet safety issues. It also signposts to organisations that can offer advice and support.

Primary

The internet plays an increasingly central role in children’s lives, exposing them to new and varied risks. According to Ofcom, 42% of parents in Northern Ireland have concerns about how much time their child spends online, with 41% being worried about their child being bullied online.

Half of 10 year olds in the UK have their own smartphone. Between 9 and 10 years old, smartphone ownership doubles.

25% of 10 year olds who go online claim to have a social media profile, with this proportion almost doubling to 43% of 11 year olds (Children and parents: Media use and attitudes report 2019).

As the internet plays such a key role in children’s lives today, schools should use strategies that help them develop safe online habits from an early age, while ensuring that they recognise the positive aspects of using the internet as well as the dangers.

To stay safe online, children should:

  • understand the importance of maintaining a positive online reputation;
  • be aware of the benefits and potential risks of sharing personal information online;
  • be able to communicate respectfully with people they know and trust;
  • know that other people’s feelings can be hurt if something unkind is said about them online;
  • understand the harmful consequences of cyberbullying and know who to talk to if it happens to them;
  • understand early on that it is okay to say no to anyone who asks them to do something they feel bad about, in real life or online;
  • avoid talking to strangers online and be aware that some people are not who they say they are online;
  • tell a trusted adult if they feel uncomfortable or frightened by something they have experienced online; and
  • realise that spending too much time online can have a negative impact on them.

Post-Primary

As the internet plays such a key role in young people’s lives today, schools should use strategies that help them develop safe online habits, while ensuring that they recognise the positive aspects of using the internet as well as the risks.

To stay safe online, young people should:

  • know strategies to protect their online identity and profiles;
  • understand the importance of maintaining a positive online reputation;
  • be aware of the benefits and potential risks of sharing personal information online;
  • understand that how they present themselves online can have positive or negative consequences;
  • understand the harmful consequences of cyberbullying and who to talk to if it happens to them or their friends;
  • be aware that a person’s online identity might not be who they are in real life;
  • be aware that their online identity can be copied or modified;
  • understand the benefits and drawbacks of manipulating digital images or content;
  • understand how media can shape ideas and opinions;
  • be able to describe and understand some of the pressures that people can feel when using social media, for example peer pressure and fear of missing out (FOMO);
  • be able to challenge inappropriate online messages and behaviour;
  • know how to contribute positively to online discussion and debate;
  • know the laws governing online behaviour, for example sharing explicit sexual images;
  • realise that spending too much time online can have a negative impact on them; and
  • know how to report an online issue.