By Luke Brent-Savage, Director


The Ever-Changing World of Teaching Children How to be Safe Online




Having joined Education Child Protection Ltd in January 2012, my role very quickly developed from not just training professionals on Child Protection, but also on how the internet was becoming such a huge factor in many different areas of safeguarding. And very quickly after that, schools were asking if I would be willing to teach their pupils how to stay safe online.


Late in 2012 I visited my first school and spoke to children about what they do online, and how they might go about keeping themselves safe. Thinking back to their responses and looking back to the websites and games they were using, compared to now in late 2019, it is obvious how quickly and how much things have changed. 


Back in 2012 games like Club Penguin, Minecraft, Moshi Monsters and Moviestar Planet were dominating the primary school scene, and services like Skype and YouTube were pretty much the extent of their online world beyond games. With older children, Facebook was in full swing, having already hit 1bn profiles worldwide, and Twitter was also on the radar. Snapchat was beginning its growth and had released a version for children called Snapkidz. Not well used – as you might expect, what child wants to use a child’s version of social media?!


Today, Minecraft is still being played, having had a bit of a resurgence (its popularity was waning somewhat a year ago), but Club Penguin, Moshi et al have fallen off the radar. Today the online game scene is dominated by Roblox. Not a bad, dangerous game, but one like so many others, that allows its users to chat and communication with one another. And by users, I do mean millions of users. Games like Clash Royale, Clash of Clans, and Plants vs Zombies also are regularly mentioned by children, and again, all allow the chat function between their users.


Today, working with children above the age of 8 or 9, it is Apps that dominate many of the conversations. Children, as one may well expect, aren’t these days using Facebook much, that’s for parents and grandparents! Instagram would arguably be top of the list in terms of social media popularity for children, followed by Tik Tok (exclusively videos) for younger children. Snapchat is still there, although its popularity is dwindling, and has been for the past 18 months. New apps in the last couple of years like Houseparty (video chatting friends), Twitch (watching live computer games being played) and Discord (gaming chat) are what children talk of using, yet parents often are none the wiser to.


Back when I first started teaching children, I was doing what I thought best, but at no stage was there any guidance or instruction about what children should be taught. I spoke to children about the dangers of chatting to strangers, always telling a trusted adult should anything go wrong, and about the importance of protecting their personal information. I signposted them to places they could get help; CEOP was 6 years old and well established, ChildLine was always an option and had a phone number of children could call to speak to a counsellor.


The death of Breck Bednar in February 2014 had a huge impact on my work. Breck met his murderer, Lewis Daynes from Essex, on Minecraft. He was groomed for more than a year. It led to him travelling to meet his online friend by taxi. The death of a 14-year-old boy showed the world how dangerous the online world can be, even on innocent games.


Since that awful situation unfolded, I have seen the work that I do become more and more in-demand. Schools now see how important proper education about staying safe online is for all their children, and so many schools feel that they have a lack of expertise to deliver sessions on the topic.

Fast forward to the present day. Now we have Government guidance on the subject. ‘Teaching Online Safety in Schools’ was published in June 2019. For the first time in my career, I was given guidance on what I should be saying. The realisation that I had been doing the right thing was a relief. In today’s sessions we talk to children about live-streaming, inciting content online, pornography, grooming, online abuse, fake profiles and online challenges. 


The basics remain from 2012 – for example I will always still discuss with children how they must keep their personal information private. But today they may reveal things about themselves very differently to the past. Today, children may have personal information in their bio on an app they use, and their privacy settings aren’t enabled, their username on their favourite online game could contain their name, children who like to do live videos could be revealing their location. Anyone one of these things and an offender could begin to build a profile of a potential target.


CEOP is still in existence – which is a massive relief. They are constantly updating their website for children to make it as relevant as possible, they have a reporting button for children to use if there are serious issues they need to report, and new films for children of all ages that I often use in my sessions. ChildLine is also still going strong, and these days have an online chat service so children can speak to people online, not just over the phone.


What I can guarantee is a few thing;


1. Children will always move on and change when it comes to the things, they do online


2. The dangers for children are sadly not decreasing but increasing - with a growing number of grooming cases being reported in the UK year on year


3. Staying up to date with what children do online will get harder and harder, so communication with children is vital


4. Children will need to be educated more and more about staying safe online as time goes on 


To try and keep people up to date on the subject, I have now developed a website, www.kidsonlineworld.com, full of advice on games, apps, parental controls and what’s new in the online world of children. It helps adults understand the difference between Twitch and Mixer, talks about how Discord and Houseparty have changed how children chat online, and how Fortnite has a replacement in Apex Legends. If you are reading this, thinking what on earth are they, maybe a visit to the website is needed!



Luke Brent-Savage

Director, ECP Ltd.

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