esafety and digital citizenship specialist


What's the Point of Safer Internet Day?


This is a blog post for parents, for adults, for adults who are parents, and those who work with young people.

The point of SID is, one would hope, fairly obvious; to help young people stay safe online. We could add that we would like them to thrive online. To be safe, confident, creative and compassionate digital citizens. Across many parts of the world on Tuesday 6 February, Safer Internet Day, schools and organisations that work with young people will be sharing safe messages, and engaging young people in activities, to raise their awareness of the opportunities and challenges. I suppose, there will be some sessions for parents too.

After ten years working in the area of online safety it is clear to me that we need to focus our attention and support on the adults who are using social media, and specifically, though not exclusively, parents and carers.

So many adults criticise young people for their naïve and anti social behaviour on social media. They share scare stories of apps and sexual predators, examples of young people sexting and young people bullying. I suggest we pause for a moment and ask ourselves why young people behave in this way.

When we see headlines stating ‘Children as young as seven are sexting’  we could conclude that social media apps and services make children share sexualised images of themselves and other children. That’s a possibility, but doesn’t make much sense. Or we could conclude that, as society has evolved, children have become more aware of their sexuality at an ever younger age. Well, it’s a possibility I suppose.

Or, we could look to the behaviour of adults online. We could look to the celebrities who share sexualised images of themselves. Or.. we could look at ‘normal’ adults whose sexting is a part of normal sexual relationships 

If we accept that consenting adults are using social media to send sexual messages or content to each other then we can hardly be surprised that children, who aspire to be adults as soon as possible, will do the same. Generating sexualised images of children is an offence in the UK and as such we need to ensure our young people are aware of this. Similarly, the misery of such content being shared in a public arena, online, or at school for example, cannot be underestimated. Young people have been so ashamed and upset when their images are shared without permission with an unintended audience, have, in some cases, resorted to suicide.

Why would young people think it is normal to humiliate someone in this way? Well, we only need to look at the behaviour of adults who, motivated by revenge or malice, use websites and social media to share these private and intimate images and messages. It is hardly surprising then that young people will behave as adults do.

What can parents and carers do?

They can accept that sexting is, for many, a normal part of relationships and as such they need to help their children be aware of the dangers and provide strategies, and warnings, relating to how to sext more safely. This may sound counter intuitive and yet most of us recognised many years ago that we needed to provide youngsters with information relating to safe sex and healthy consensual and respectful relationships.

Parents may find this short video helpful

I’m regularly asked to talk to children in primary and secondary schools about online bullying. The schools are aware online bullying is taking place and hope that I will be able to give the young people information to stop this.

To be honest, I don’t share their optimism.

Children will listen, and it is conceivable that some children will act upon some of what I say. What we must do is; consider, why do young people bully each other online? Could it be that they see adults and older children bullying each other while playing games or using their social media services? Adults including celebrities will treat one and other, and celebrities, disgracefully at every online opportunity. We can see hateful comments on news sites as well as on social media including Twitter and Facebook 

As long as online bullying is seen as normal and acceptable behaviour we can hardly expect children to behave any differently.

What can parents and carers do?

As parents we spend every day of our children’s lives showing them how to be good, kind and considerate citizens. Whether we’re on a train, in a restaurant or at a public event, we continually remind our children to be considerate and tolerant citizens. We need, as parents, to show and share our social media streams with our children. Help them to understand how to relate, and engage with compassion and care, unlike the many heated and often offensive discussions we see in so many Facebook groups populated by adults and parents.

We read books to, and with, our children every night and perhaps we should do the same with our social media channels. This way we can start to develop digital young people who are considerate and empathetic digital citizens

Children will make mistakes.

They will let themselves, and you, down.

They’re just kids. They’re learning how to be adults.

As adults and parents our role is to recognise they will make mistakes. To help them through the often traumatic situation they’ve created and give them the love and confidence to learn from the experience, and move on. If we don’t do this then we have to ask ourselves; ‘Are we certain our child will never be so very unhappy and desperate that they take their own lfe?

What can parents and carers do?

We can recognise that, even though they’re our children, and we are the parents, we may not be the trusted adult when the Bad Thing happens. Remember when you were young and you did something that was so terrible that you were frightened to tell your parents?

Every child should have at least three trusted adults, other than their parents and class teacher. Often when the Bad Thing happens, the parent or teacher is the last person they want to tell. For this reason, I deliver training for lunch-time supervisors, librarians, cleaners and other adults who children may feel they can trust. It may be an older sibling, a friend’s parent, a neighbour or relative. Ensure your child knows who their trusted adults are, and make sure you know who they are too. As a parent I’m sometimes the last person to know when my daughters have had a challenging incident, and that’s okay, they have a network of others who can provide support and guidance, and I’m pretty much okay with that.

And finally, don’t forget to ask your children; ‘How are things online?’ Today, our young people have many complicated, challenging, supporting, competing realtionships in a way that many of us can hardly comprehend if we had a pre online childhood. Listen to you children. Share the apps. Speak with them from an informed and interested perspective.

Let's try a little more understanding and a little less criticism of our young people, and perhaps in future, the focus of Safer Internet Day will be about supporting parents to be the digital parents our children need and deserve.

I have a section on my site for parents

And a Facebook page for you

And a Twitter account

Oh and an Instagram account too

And you’ll find information for parents on the Safer Internet Site

Thank you for reading.

You can contact me here

Here to help


I hope you've had a restful and happy summer break and you spent time with family and friends. After over 30 years working in education, and supporting organisations who work with young people, I've come to a single conclusion; The only thing that truly matters is that we are kind and supportive to the people around us. Whether they are colleagues, students, family, friends or neighbours - everyone deserves kindness.

I've worked in the area of online safety for almost 10 years and I provide face to face support and training to schools, colleges, charities and a range of organisations with a responsibilty for young people. I also specialise in providing support, resources and information via social media. Over the summer break I shared a range of articles and links on subjects as diverse as radicalisation, fake news and the impact of social media on body image and mental health.

There were also more quirky links to digital citizenship. Did you know 30 million Facebook users have died in the first 8 years of its existence?

 Hurricane Harvey was the cause of wide spread devastation.. and fake news. There's that shark again.

Also, in August Safer Internet Day 2018's Theme was announced.

When we try to engage with young people, and help them to become safe and confident digital citizens, it is very important that our messages and resources are relevant and engaging. That's why I share these things with you.

You can be up to date and informed and relevent when you support young people by simply doing one or more of the following:

You could follow my tweets on Twitter

Or, Like or Follow my Facebook Page

Or perhaps you'd find my Instagram feed a little easier to digest?

It's possible you prefer the more formal world of LinkedIn, I post resources there too.

Or.. just go old school and visit the website

I'm here to help you. If you'd like me to come to your school or organisation around Safer Internet Day 2018 then let me know, That's always a busy time for me and my diary does fill up quickly.

If you've yet to arrange your annual esafety update for your colleagues - I can help with that too.

People like you think my support has value

Take care out there







5 A Day


This morning I was invited to speak on BBC radio about the Children's Commissioner's 5 a Day campaign launched  6 August 2017.

There is a concern that children are spending too much time online (a study by Ofcom found that 5 year olds spend up to 15 hours each week on social media) and socialmedia companies must become more responsible in the way they engage with young people.

The 5 a Day campaign suggests that there are five  elements of a positive socialmedia and online 'diet'.

Be Mindful


Give to Others

Get Creative

Be Active

To summarise the campaign; parents could look at ways in which they can help their child use social media in more positive ways. To be more resilient and not allow the negitivity of others to impact on their sense of self worth. To proactively look at ways to be positive and supportive of others. To use socialmedia to learn new skills and be more creative, and also to make time to be physically active and particpate in sports and outdoor activities.

Children will learn from their parents and emulate their behaviour - to some extent. Parents who participate in sports and play musical instruments are more likely to have children who see the positive benefits of such activities. Similarly if a parent is always checking their socialmedia streams on their phone in the home, at the park, the playground, then children will see this as normal behaviour and almost certainly use socialmedia in the same way.

Through my work I  see so many positive benefits of socialmedia engagement and it is undoubtedly the most useful resource available to me for my own professional development, and maintaining personal and professional relationships. The presenter asked me if socialmedia was 'bad for children's health.' My answer was that inevitably there will be physical issues around eye strain, posture, lack of exercise, sleep depriavation etc. yet ultimately I think 'Everything in moderation' is a useful maxim. Let's help our young people become positive, resilient, safe and creative citizens. To do this, first, we need parents to understand their role in demonstrating these attributes themselves.





Live Streaming Tears


I've been working in the area of online safety for over ten years and there are days when I feel we have made no progress at all. Children and adults continue to put themselves at risk when they are online and we continue to fire fight incidents rather than instilling in young people the skills, knowledge and confidence to be safe and resilient digital citizens.

Yesterday I received a message from a parent who was alarmed by a BBC news report about children being groomed via the Twitter live video app Periscope.

You can see the report here

If you're not familiar with Periscope then in simple terms, you can stream live video of yourself or your surroundings to anyone, and everyone, across the world. It's very useful when used responsibly. I could use Periscope to stream one of my courses so anyone interested, who couldn't attend in person, could benefit from the event. Similarly you could stream live video of you and your friends skateboarding, playing football, climbing a local landmark, riding on a fair ride.. pretty much anything you think would be of interest to others. However the BBC report focuses on young people and children who live stream themselves, sometimes alone, sometimes in their bedrooms and more or less hanging around, live, online waiting for someone to say something to them.

 It really isn't a surprise at all that there are people who will take advantage of this and make inappropriate comments and requests, many will be offences, and many will constitute grooming - and the child is at risk of exploitation and possibly physical harm. But let's pause for a moment and consider where the problem lies. In 2006 I, and other online safety specialists, warned parents about the perils of webcams attached to home computers and there have been thousands of apps since then that allow the opportunity for children to post videos of themselves online - for the world to see. Recently I saw parents warning each other about 'paedophiles' contacting children on Music.aly - an app that is used for singing and dancing and so very appealing to young children who hope for positive feedback and friendly comments from friends and, yes, strangers too.

As parents, carers, and adults who work with young people we would do better to spend less time being 'shocked' and 'alarmed' about specific apps and, instead, focus on consistent messages of support and guidance for our young people so they understand the balance of risks and benefits of live video and social media. We should help young people to understand what kinds of activity will put them at risk. We should give them the skills to recognise when they are at risk and what action to take. This means we need to have consistent positive messages for our young people and to ensure they have trusted adults they can turn to, to know how to report unwanted and inappropriate behavior within the apps, and how to find online support from organisations like Childline when they fear they have nobody they feel they can confide in.

After over a decade of the same familiar challenges, it can't be so unreasonable to hope that parents, and adults who work with young people, can begin to provide consistent and effective support for our young people.



National Unplugging Day


On Friday 23 June 2017 I was invited to contribute to a BBC radio discussion on the subject of National Unplugging Day; held on Sunday 25th June 2017.

The aim of the day was to ask parents around the UK and beyond to pledge to #GoGadgetFree and spend the day from sun-up to sun-down without any technology.

'With traditional family values under constant attack from modern day living and a variety of mental, physical and emotional issues stemming from technology overuse it’s no wonder that people of all ages have never been more desperate to find ways to get a handle on theirs and their families digital habits and get some boundaries in place'

 You can hear my thoughts on the role and opportunity for parents to help their children become confident and safe digital citizens here

if you'd like me to support your colleagues, or parents and carers, then do please let me know. Always here to help :-)





Ch Ch Changes


You have possibly heard that Northern Grid for Learning, my employer, will close for business at the end of July 2017.

I will, however, continue to provide face to face and online esafety and safeguarding training, and support, for the region’s schools, and organisations that work with young people.

It is important that all adults, whose role involves working with young people, receive annual online safety and safeguarding training, and I can provide this if you think it would be helpful.

I also deliver sessions for governors, parents and carers, and digital leader sessions for young people.

Please do contact me if you would like to discuss ways in which I may be able to help.

Please also note my new contact details, which are live now.

 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view

Thank you for reading and have a great day :-)

Best wishes