Setting the Scene
In this world of rapid change and technological advancement it is frequently the case that the virtual worlds we step into collide with actions in the real world. Virtual worlds and technology have much to offer, and whilst there are sometimes negative aspects associated with them, our proactive preparation and informed response to them can ensure we derive benefit and enjoyment in safety and security.
Challenges in the Context
Moriah College partners with ySafe Social Media and CyberSafety Experts to ensure we maintain currency in the way we provide cyber safety education and support to our Moriah College families. Our most recent communication with ySafe alerted us to online communication platforms that are playing a crucial role in the way young children communicate with one another in the virtual world. These platforms function interdependently with the games that have captured the hearts and minds of a very high percentage of our students. Research encourages educators and carers not to demonise technology but to rather empower our young to manage both digital technology and themselves, wisely. The below suggestions set out to guide you in your response to this challenge.
Confronting the Demons
Fortnight, Minecraft and Among Us are household names across our Eastern Suburbs. Our students engage deeply in these playgrounds and it is usually during these times that a calmness descends upon the household. Frequently the adults use this opportunity to do what they need to do in an uninterrupted space of precious time. However, it is also during these seemingly calm moments that our young often use Discord, an embedded communication platform, to make group calls so that they can chat verbally during their gameplay. Additionally, once they have a Discord profile, they can join public ‘servers’ and interact with strangers. This communication is without a central moderation service and sometimes leads to difficult interactions for many students. While much of the conversation on Discord is centred around gaming strategies and how-to guides, profanity, aggressive language and adult content are abundant. Many of the challenges that emerge for students during their real world social interaction are associated with negative interactions or roastings that originated in this online platform.
My conversations with our students reveal that they are passionate for these games because they provide:
- Exclusive channels and online chat
- Subject-specific discussion and gaming tips
- Fun banter and communication with friends
- The ability to chat with friends while playing games
Sadly there is a downside to this interaction and there are instances where our wellbeing team, educators and myself intervene due to:
- Cyberbullying, banter and roasting
- Inappropriate content
- Explicit language
The most obvious danger that is frequently discussed with children is that of online predators, grooming and exposure to inappropriate ideas and material. However, the cyberbullying, banter and “roasting” causes the most significant challenge in our young. It is important that parents implement Parental Controls using the likes of Family Zone which can block a child from using Discord as this is evidently not appropriate for Primary School students due to the inappropriate material associated with it. Parents could also consider using the Keep Me Safe Mode lever in the privacy and safety settings. This will remove and filter interactions associated with identified key words which are negatively geared and result in the child entering a challenging context.
The virtual world of gaming frequently empowers students to communicate in a more risky, confident manner which is incompatible with the way they would usually interact. This results in students talking to one another and saying things about their peers which are harmful and damaging. This is known as online disinhibition and results from anonymity, invisibility and lack of eye contact. Whilst this can work positively for shy children and encourage them to find their voice, it frequently has negative outcomes as young children interact without the usual, face to face interpersonal filter and feedback.
A number of strategies are employed to ensure students make smart, informed choices when using technology, gaming and their personal chat-communication:
- Moriah College educators provide students with explicit instruction on how to sustain safe communication online in the same manner as we exchange ideas in the real world. They teach students to predict the emotional response a recipient would have to a mean, online comment or harmful rumour and to pause before posting or responding.
- Moriah College educators explain accountability and laws that govern online behaviour and the seriousness of actions. Our ySafe partnership includes law enforcement representation which assists the children to understand the real consequences for inappropriate actions.
- Moriah College Wellbeing Team members respond to poor choices students make on line, particularly when the outcome impacts the wellbeing of students at school. The Friendology, and most recently bKinder, programs extend from Year K to 6. They set out to promote empathy and compassion in children and purposefully consider interactions and exchanges in the virtual world. The resources used emphasise that actions matter and that we each have the power to make a difference through human kindness. The students are provoked into pondering and exploring in order to see things from the perspective of others. It also encourages our children to explore their own capacity for kindness and thoughtfulness and think about positive opportunities of contributing to the community and the world. The online chat is one such context that is explored deeply in both the bKinder and Friendology program in an attempt to heighten self-awareness and actions associated with online disinhibition. Roasting that starts online identifies a perceived weakness or characteristic event or action associated with a child and sets out to embarrass the individual. These roastings start off as seemingly light hearted banter but can become highly toxic and impact the wellbeing of individuals significantly. These actions are prohibited in the real world of Moriah as an extremely unhelpful behaviour and are firmly discouraged in the sometimes clandestine world of online chat.
The Role of the Parent and Connection to ySafe
It is important that parents reinforce this approach by endorsing the aforementioned careful thought and compassionate communication in their children. As part of our partnership with ySafe, Moriah College has received our very own Parent Cyber Safety Hub. This Hub is a rich source of live information directly from ySafe’s multidisciplinary team of cyber safety experts. Parents can access the Cyber Safety Hub using the link below: https://moriah.cybersafetyhub.com.au/
About the Parent Cyber Safety Hub
The Hub includes expert advice on the most pertinent cyber safety issues and frequently asked questions around platforms like TikTok, Fortnite, Instagram, and more. There are app reviews with age and safety recommendations, along with a range of guides and resources to help ensure healthy boundaries around screen-time & gaming, and step-by-step instructions for using parental controls and filtering out inappropriate content.
This collective endeavour will hopefully ensure that students remain well within and beyond the games, enjoying the playgrounds of life which they are so passionate about, and also engaging with their peers in a happy, healthy manner.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lynda Fisher is the Head of Primary School at Moriah College in Queens Park, NSW.