online safety and digital citizenship specialist


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


Lazy messages


Until adults move on from the dismissive and patronising position of ‘the online world isn’t real or valid’ we will continue to fail in the quality of the support we offer our children.

Ask children and young people about the esafety messages they’ve been told by parents, carers and teachers and they will mumble with disdain:

‘Never share personal information online’

‘Never talk to someone online who you’ve not met in ‘the real world’.’

‘Tell a trusted adult if you are worried.’

‘If you are being bullied online then just turn off your device and go outside and play with real friends.’

Too many parents, and adults responsible for young people, reinforce messages that are glib, meaningless and underpinned by; ‘I don’t know anything about this new stuff – I just wish they would ban Facebook.’

If we are to accept we have a role to provide guidance and support for young people in our care then we must be much more proactive in developing our own knowledge and understanding of social media and online opportunities and challenges. Similarly we must be seen by our young people to model appropriate behaviour and to empathise with young people rather than make false distinctions between ‘the online world’ and ‘the real world.’

Let’s look at the e-safety messages we‘ve been feeding our children.


‘Never Share Personal Information Online’

How does this make any sense? We need to share personal information every day and we frequently offer Amazon and similar, our home address, bank details and other personal information. If we accept that ‘1 in 4 adults met their partner online’, then surely as parents and teachers we need to provide young people with advice and guidance on when and how to share personal information? Until we help children understand the cost benefits of sharing personal information, they will continue to be misinformed about how and when to share.


‘Never Talk To Someone Online Who You’ve Not Met In ‘The Real World’.’

Many of us who use social media for our professional development and hobbies and interests will recognise that sharing ideas and experiences with strangers across the world has real benefits and can enhance our professional and personal lives. Surely we should be providing students with opportunities to communicate with ‘strangers’ by bringing online interactions, linked to curriculum work, into our classrooms?


‘Tell A Trusted Adult If You Are Worried.’

I think we can sometimes be a little too quick to assume a child will have a trusted adult. We assume, if they have two parents, they can speak to them, or that they will by default, tell their class teacher or key worker. Some children may not feel comfortable telling their mother but they may tell a friend’s mother. Some may not wish to discuss issues and concerns with their current teacher but perhaps their previous teacher? We shouldn’t underestimate the role of lunchtime supervisors and librarians. Often these people see and speak to the children every day and are seen as more trustworthy than some of their other relationships with adults.

A child needs a choice of trusted adults and we should make sure every child knows who their personal preference trusted adult is, before they are at that crisis point when they really need them.

‘If You Are Being Bullied Online Then Just Turn Off Your Device And Go Outside And Play With Real Friends.’
Until adults move on from this dismissive and patronising position of ‘the online world isn’t real or valid’ we will continue to fail in the quality of the support we offer our children. Young people and many of us who are adults see our online interactions to be important and often more valid than face to face interactions. Social media is social. Young people want and need to be part of the interactions and this is where many will gain their sense of self worth. It may be difficult for some parents and teachers to comprehend but for many of us, online relationships can be better, more rewarding and more caring than the face to face interactions of school and home.

For those who work with, and care for, young people there is something you can do. Take control of your own learning and understanding of this important area of a child’s development. Use social media to engage and learn from others.

location location location


Many esafety messages are not fit for purpose, leave our young people with little guidance and reinforce their belief that we, as adults, are failing them.

We’ve looked at ‘Never share personal information’ previously and here we will consider again how this message is lazy, ill thought through and without value.

We have to share personal information if we are to function in our analogue face to face communities, and we teach our children from a very young age when and how to share personal information.
As parents we have always helped our children to have a healthy sense of mistrust and caution when it comes to sharing personal information. Indeed we spend a lot of time threatening children not to tell strangers in the street their names or addresses. As a boy my parents repeatedly told me that If I answered the home telephone I must never say ‘My mum and dad are not at home.’ Instead we were given strategies to withhold such information saying instead ’My mum isn’t available at present, can I take a message?’

There is also research and evidence to suggest that increasing numbers of adults meet their partners online via social media and dating sites. If this is the case then what are we doing as parents, carers and teachers to prepare our children for online relationships?

It is not clear why so many adults fail to see that they must spend time and effort helping their children to learn new digital citizenship skills and strategies to keep safe. This is a process that should take place every day, at every opportunity and not to be left to one esafety lesson a year at school.

We need to help our children develop the skills and experience to understand the costs and benefits of sharing elements of our, and other people’s personal information online.

If we shop online then we need to share our address and our payment and bank details. Clearly for many of us, the risks are outweighed by the benefits of goods and services delivered directly to our physical or digital location. It is also a useful point to debate and consider whether we should share our personal preferences and shopping habits with our major supermarkets. I currently take the view that I’m comfortable with Sainsbury’s knowing what I purchase if this means I receive more focused and appropriate advertising and promotions. I take a less positive view of companies further sharing my personal information to third party and unrelated companies. Nevertheless, anything that allows me to be a more effective purchaser of the things I need can be seen as a benefit with a cost I’m prepared to bear.. at present.

At the time of writing, many in my social networks are enjoying holidays and this leads to oversharing of actual and imminent location or ourselves and others. It is understandable to want to share good news;

‘I’m going on holiday to Spain!’
‘Can’t wait!’
‘2 weeks!’
‘3 more sleeps..’

And ofcourse once we’re on our holidays we post beautiful pictures of views, food and our loved ones;

‘Love this place.’
‘last night in paradise’
‘View from my plane seat of rainy Heathrow, England’

When I work with children and young people I ask; ‘Where do burglars live?’ and we eventually conclude that somebody in our social network must inevitably know somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody who will burglar our home while we are on holiday. Logic dictates that posting personal information about location will increase the likelihood that we will be victims of crime.

It’s also worth noting that there is increasing evidence that insurance companies will not compensate our losses if they can prove that we broadcast when we would be away from our homes via social media..
The idea that we avoid ‘broadcasting’ when our homes would be unoccupied is not a new one. For many of us who were around pre social media and internet, we employed strategies including, not cancelling deliveries of bread and milk, not telling the (never to be trusted and much maligned taxi driver) our destination or length of stay and the cunning, if pointless, partial closing of curtains.

In this digital age surely each of us must be more guarded in the way we share not only our own personal information and details, but those too of our family, friends and contacts? It’s not difficult, it just takes a little more care and a little more effort.. oh, and not blaming young people for the mistakes that we as adults model every day.