Digital down low

The GDST and the RAP Project collaborated on a unique event for parents to help them better understand their children’s online world.

rap projectNearly 200 GDST parents joined a unique online event at the end of last term.

Digital Natives: A Parent’s Guide, was a collaboration between the GDST and the RAP Project which aimed to inform and help parents of 11-13-year-olds to better understand and navigate the time their children spend online.


“When we sit on a bus, we don’t let strangers sit on our lap. So, let’s not do it online”

The RAP Project has worked with many GDST students both, before and during lockdown as part of the GDST’s excellent programme of Guided Home Learning. The Project – RAP stands for Raising Awareness and Prevention – aims to raise awareness about personal safety online and their presentations include discussions on how pornography and social media can influence attitudes and expectations and how the media can affect body image and self-esteem.

But the GDST felt there was room to advise parents, too. Lockdown and the partial closure of schools has unavoidably led to children spending more time online and increased parental anxiety surrounding this issue. And with the summer months now upon us and many weeks  before all children return to school in September, how do parents strike the right balance between making the most of rich online learning material and protecting their children from dangers such as grooming, cyberbullying and unrealistic body image?

rap project

The hour-long online presentation and Q&A session was led by Allison Havey, co-founder of the RAP Project. An outspoken New Yorker, Havey has presented at hundreds of schools both in the UK and internationally. This event was aimed at the parents of children in Years 6-8, the so-called ‘digital natives’ who have grown up in an online world where they may have access to a multitude of screens.

Havey began her presentation with an arresting quote from Baroness Beeban Kidron, a well-known campaigner for children’s rights in the digital world.

“There is no childhood online.”

Havey said this was a stark reminder that there are no rules, no policing or protections for anyone, least of all children, in the online world.

She talked about lockdown trends such as the growth in eating disorders – lockdown saw a 50% increase to eating disorder helpline BEAT – the vast growth of some sites (Tik Tok was only launched in 2017 and already has nearly 1 billion users) and the big spike in the time children spent on social media. She talked about grooming and gaming, sexting and cyberbullying and the need to teach children about privacy and discretion online.

On the question of how much is too much when it comes to young people and social media?

Havey said: “The Royal Society for Public Health says young people spending more than three hours a day using social media are TWICE as likely to display symptoms of poor mental health.”

But she didn’t recommend limiting children’s time online, particularly as this has been their only method of socialising with peers during lockdown. Instead she encouraged parents to use their children’s online experience to promote discussions at home around the issues.

“The best thing we can do is teach our kids to be responsible,” she said. She told parents that it is up to them to teach their children self-awareness about the time they spent online. “Kids don’t have perspective,” she said.  “They live in the here and now and it’s up to us adults to help them understand social media and its effects.”

“When we sit on a bus, we don’t let strangers sit on our lap. So, let’s not do it online. Make sure your children have boundaries. Make sure their accounts are private. Practise discretion. Use the controls available to you as parents.”


Comments from parents:

  • A very useful talk – thank you very much
  • That was really informative!  I look forward to chatting to my daughter.
  • This is really useful, lots of helpful tips
  • A really informative and relevant presentation.