e-Safety and user monitoring solutions for education and the enterprise

Teaching students to recognise grooming

Mark Kingham Mark Kingham

The Sex Education Forum conducted a survey of more than 2,000 students, aged between 11 to 25 years. It was discovered that:

  • 50% of the respondents did not know how to get help if they were abused
  • 53% of the respondents could not recognise grooming for sexual exploitation
  • 44% were unaware about abusive relationships
  • 34% were clueless about sexual consent

This lack of knowledge was attributed to the gaps in their sex and relationships education in schools. So, how can teachers bridge this gap and ensure the safety of their students?

Bridging the gap and empowering students

1. What is grooming?

The first step to help children recognise grooming is to define the term itself. For most people, including children, the word ‘grooming’ would be interpreted by its common meaning ‘the things that you do to make your appearance clean and neat, for example brushing your hair, or the things that you do to keep an animal’s hair or fur clean and neat.

However, it is essential for children to understand that this word has an alternative meaning. Our previous article defines online grooming as “… the process by which an adult with an inappropriate sexual interest in children will approach a child online to foster a relationship with the intent to meet them in person and intentionally cause harm.”

This can be a difficult subject to broach with children, therefore, the right balance of tact and honesty is extremely important.

Teachers need to educate children that groomers come in all forms and could be anyone – from a guiding figure in their lives to a stranger they meet online.

2. All it takes is a few tricks and some time

When teaching children about grooming, a related concept is the process groomers use to deceive them. Children should be taught that groomers will not be upfront about their intentions. Their manipulation is a gradual process. And this involves paying attention to that student, making them feel special. This is done by way of flattery, expensive gifts, and being sympathetic. These tactics make the child believe that no one else can understand them better than the groomer. The result is that they start trusting the groomer.

3. Sharing a few secrets…

Once this trust has been established, the groomers use a new tactic to influence and control their victims – secrecy. Children are fooled into believing that something valuable is being shared with them. In return, they are asked to share something of value with the groomer. Over time, the groomer develops an inappropriate relationship with the child, terming the conversations as their “special secret”.

Teaching children to differentiate between good secrets and bad secrets is therefore essential. A secret which makes them feel anxious, fearful or uncomfortable should not be kept from their parents or teachers.

Developing creative lesson plans to aid their understanding…

Teaching children about a sensitive topic like grooming can be tricky. Students need to be careful with everyone, but at the same time, you don’t want them to avoid developing trusting relationships with adults.

Lily Horton, from Loudmouth Education and Training, mentions an interesting class activity to discuss online grooming. You can ask your students to work together and create a realistic character.  Give the character attributes, behavioural tendencies, and a name. Once the character is developed, you can read passages from her diary, followed by an interactive question and answer session.

For example – “I’ve met this guy through Facebook and he is so cute! His name is Tom and he is 16. Though we haven’t met up yet, we have been messaging each other for weeks! My mates find this whole situation funny but I think we are really falling for each other!”

Later, you could ask questions such as:

  • What makes the character feel that she is falling for Tom?
  • Why do you think her friends find this ‘whole situation’ funny?
  • Do you think the character should meet Tom? Why/why not?

The next excerpt can be:

“I met Tom today. He was sweet and caring. But he lied about his age. Though I must say he made up for his mistake by giving me a very pretty and expensive necklace. He made our evening special and even dropped me home. I think I’ll excuse his lie. Excited to meet him again!”

You could then ask:

  • Do you think the girl should meet Tom again? Why/why not?
  • Should she be concerned that he lied about his age? Why/why not?

You can later continue by saying that she has fallen in love with him and they have started a relationship. She has stopped seeing her friends as Tom thinks they are a bad influence. He continues to buy expensive gifts for her and encourages her to push boundaries and try new things like drinking alcohol and watching pornography.

You can ask questions like:

  • Do you think their relationship is healthy? Why/why not?
  • What do you think the girl should do?

The latter aspects of the story can deal with how Tom has managed to isolate her completely from her friends, how he has started asking for sexual favours and coercing her into sexual activity online in return for his expensive gifts.

While using such lesson plans, you can summarise that this entire process is called grooming and that some signs can be spotted early on. Discussing such situations in the class will help students to better identify signs.

Students are now computer literate from an early age and need to be safeguarded while accessing online resources. Have you considered the benefits of installing cyber safety measures? Connect with us on Twitter and LinkedIn to know more!

The UK is seeing a rise in self-harm among students. So what can teachers do to tackle this?

Greg Johnson Greg Johnson

NHS figures published by The Guardian show that self-harm among students has increased dramatically in the past 10 years. There has been a steep rise in students under 18 being admitted to hospital for harming themselves.

The report further states that poisoning accounts for 88% of self-harming incidents, with figures rising from 9,741 in 2005-06 to 13,583 in 2015-2016 among girls and from 2,234 to 2,246 among boys.

Furthermore, an article in The Independent highlighted the results of a survey jointly conducted by the Association of School and College Leaders and the National Children’s Bureau. It revealed that nearly 79% of schools reported an upsurge of self-harming and suicidal tendencies among pupils.

In the face of such frightening statistics, how can teachers respond to self-harming incidents in a helpful and empowering manner?

1. Allow students to confide in you

When teachers suspect or identify that a pupil is self-harming, confronting them immediately is not the best way. They may refuse to accept your help or to acknowledge that they have such tendencies. It is better to foster an environment of trust where pupils will naturally come to you to talk about any issues they might be facing.

If students refuse to discuss their issues, the best you can do is let them know that you are there for them and offer them a chance to talk when they feel ready. Students who self-harm are more likely to confide in teachers who show sympathy and understanding and are not judgmental.

2. Informing parents

A student may not like the idea of teachers informing their parents. Though this decision should be respected, there are cases where teachers must involve parents. Such conversations are never easy, as it is very hard to tell parents that their child is harming themselves. By addressing parents directly, in a calm and thoughtful manner, free from accusations or criticism, this difficult situation can be managed in a sensitive way.

3. Create peer support groups

Young people will naturally confide in their peers more than in parents or teachers. The premise of a peer support scheme is that young people are qualitatively different from adults a generation or more apart from them. As teachers and parents, we imagine that we know the world that they live in, but discover that we cannot enter their experience any more than we can appreciate their music or fashion. There are issues and concerns that are common experience for young people, just as their experience of life in school, in the corridors, in the playground may be quite different from how the adults see it.

Peer Support provides an additional, largely informal, layer of help and support in the school. It is also about mental health – fostering the abilities and resilience of all, and preventing students’ coping abilities from being devastated by stresses in their environment. Peer support can also help them take advantage of their strengths and be compassionate toward themselves. Support groups can reverse self-destructive behaviours by identifying students’ weaknesses, capitalising on their strengths and improving their leadership skills.

4. Help them find new coping strategies

Self-harm may be a way for students to cope with emotional distress. However, teachers can help them find or develop alternative mechanisms for coping. Encourage students to respond differently when they feel like hurting themselves – maybe start a journal in which they express their feelings, make them write down their negative thoughts and then tell them to tear that paper up, or listen to calming music.

5. Make referrals

While teachers play an important role in ensuring student wellbeing, self-harming tendencies cannot be tackled by schools alone. Students should, in the first instance, be referred to a school counsellor if you have one. Depending on their assessment, they might then be referred to off-site professionals. This assessment takes into consideration the risk level of physical injury, suicide and the presence of any mental health disorder.

Research has found a direct link between self-harming behaviour and students’ use of the internet. And with an increased dependence on the internet, it is essential to implement cyber safety measures. If you would like to learn more about Peer Support or about cyber safety, get in touch with Securus today.

5 tips to prevent student hackers from accessing school computer systems

Student hackers
Mark Kingham Mark Kingham

“Greenwich University suffers second data breach this year in apparent ‘revenge hack’ by former student” – Independent

“British teenager hacks North Korea’s newly-launched Facebook site after guessing the login and password were set to ‘admin’ and ‘password’” – Daily Mail

“Europe’s youngest app designer expelled after hacking school computer system” – The Telegraph

Technology advances have made learning easier and students are increasingly tech-savvy.  However, the down side is that there has been a dramatic rise in unethical activities. Protecting school computer systems from student hackers is now an urgent priority.

A recent article in The Guardian highlighted that many students’ internet understanding and online abilities are now way beyond those of their teachers. As a result, it can be a nightmare for schools to deal with students who hack into databases, steal staff passwords and access secure sections of school websites.

Research by Probrand revealed that “how to hack the school computer” has been searched for more than 2,100 times in the UK. Astonishingly, this is monthly! So, why do students indulge in such practices? The reasons can be varied – to retaliate for punishment, to change their grades, improve their attendance, for peer respect or just for fun.

Commenting on school systems being hacked, Action Fraud, the UK’s national reporting centre for cybercrime, stated that school computer systems are vulnerable to unauthorised access. “Schools are just not aware of all the ways they can be attacked.”

How can schools ensure safety from student hackers?

1. Usernames and passwords

The most important way to prevent unauthorised access is to review your user list, check who has permission to access what kind of content, and give each student and staff member a unique login id and password. This will provide you with an audit trail to follow in case of a hacking incident. A generic login id makes it difficult to find.

Encourage your staff to use strong passwords and change them frequently. Likewise, have a separate password for confidential data. After all, no school would want a repeat of the Bay House School incident.

2. Creating separate networks

Separating the student network from the staff network makes it harder for students to access sensitive information. Staff must be warned about sharing their passwords with students, or anyone else for that matter, because hackers can access passwords in the simplest ways.

3. Prepare copies of grades

Students feel the pressure of getting good grades and therefore the idea of hacking into the school system can be tempting. Teachers can prepare separate copies of grades by downloading or printing the grades every time a test is taken or an assignment is submitted. This kind of back-up can be a good recovery process in case of a hacking event.

4. Encourage open communication and set ground rules

Encourage open communication between students and staff members so that everyone knows what measures need to be taken to prevent hacking. Similarly, ground rules must be set highlighting acceptable behaviour when using school computers. Students should also be made aware about the rules and consequences for hacking or not adhering to the school’s policy.

5. Teach students to be digitally responsible

With the help of Internet safety lessons, students can be educated about taking responsibility for their online activities. Teachers should teach students to practice appropriate online behaviour while exploring the Internet for learning resources. Help them understand that their online activities don’t occur in a vacuum, and there might be consequences. This has the potential to make them digitally responsible.

Student hacking cannot be entirely prevented. However, schools can prevent most of it. Whilst applying the above measures is a good start, schools need to implement cyber safety measures to avoid more than just student hackers. This is where Securus steps in. Get in touch with us today to safeguard both pupils and your school systems.

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