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Families should be ‘switched-on’ before handing over internet-enabled devices for children this Christmas, say campaigners

·         NAHT issues five essential steps for families

·         Families should avoid ‘leaving children to their own devices’

·         Tech companies, families and schools should form a ‘human firewall’ around young people

Today, school leaders’ union NAHT is leading a call to urge parents and carers to think carefully about the electronic gadgets they give as gifts.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of NAHT, which represents leaders in the majority of schools, said: “We know that the internet is a powerful tool for learning, and that shiny new devices will be popular gifts this Christmas, but we also need to be mindful of the risks.

“We would never suggest that parents completely avoid buying smartphones, tablets or games consoles but we would urge them to think carefully about the right gift for their child and to talk to them about what boundaries and permissions will be set.”

NAHT recognises that some adults lack confidence or knowledge when it comes to technology. Along with other organisations, NAHT recommends that parents and children have open and constructive conversations about the use of technology.

We have suggested five essential steps for families considering an internet-enabled gift, so that they are as ‘switched on’ as possible when they talk to their children:

  • Make sure your children feel confident they can come to you if they need help or are unsure about anything that happens online.
  • Have open and open regular conversations with your children about technology and their use of it. Agree a set of family rules, including around screen time.
  • Check the capabilities of the devices your child uses including toys. Does it have internet access? Can it be used to communicate with others?
  • Be aware of and follow the age requirements of many social media apps and services, as well as games.
  • Help your child get started. Find out what safety tools or parental controls are available, and how they work and set them up as appropriate. For younger children, supervise their use.

These guidelines have been drafted in cooperation with Childnet International, a non-profit organisation working with others to help make the internet a great and safe place for children.

Will Gardner, Childnet CEO and Director of the UK Safer Internet Centre, said: “From parents and carers, schools, industry to government, we all have an important part to play to ensure that children and young people are happy and safe online. As we speak to thousands of young people each year, they tell us that they want their parents and carers to understand and support them as they navigate the digital world and having open, calm, regular conversations is key to this. We want to support and empower parents and carers to have these conversations, using giving new technology to their children as a great opportunity to do this.”

NAHT endorses guidance for parents from organisations like Childnet International and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, and will be signposting their material to schools before the end of term.

Mr Whiteman continued: “Totally unsupervised use, especially for younger or first-time users is not recommended. Families should avoid ‘leaving children to their own devices’. Parents and carers should be aware of what they are viewing and who they are interacting with.

“We want young people to be informed consumers of this technology, safe enough to surf the internet without fear and smart enough to know what to do if they see inappropriate content.

“We firmly believe that social media and technology companies have a duty of care to make sure their services are safe. Schools offer guidance for pupils about staying safe online during lessons like PSHE. But the chance for children to see something they shouldn’t is still there, which is why parents and carers must be involved.

“Everyone has seen the cases that have been reported in the news where young people have come to harm online. Tech companies, families and schools can form a ‘human firewall’ around young people, but only if they are proactive.”

In written evidence to the Science and Technology Select Committee by the National Children’s Bureau (NCB), young people said that: “It would definitely be helpful to inform parents of the impact of screen use. Over the past few years, cyber-bullying and internet safety has been a major topic concerning parents and their child’s technology. This could certainly now be extended to the effects of social media on our mental health, and not just our physical health.”

Anna Feuchtwang, NCB Chief Executive, said: “Young people tell us they want to be kept safe online and to be supported to make the most of the online world. They want their parents and carers to be part of that journey, and to understand young people’s experiences of the online world, so that they can offer help when it’s needed.”

Screen time guidance, published in January by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), recommended that the amount of screen time was controlled and should not interfere with other activities that families want to do.

Press and Media contacts:

Steven George
NAHT Head of Press and Media
01444 472886
07970 907730

Rose Tremlett 
Senior Press Officer 
07545 354363

Email : press.office@naht.org.uk