Connecting the Dots
However, no matter what tools schools use to achieve this, if there is no context provided and the information isn’t connected to deliver the full picture, schools still face the same issues as if they were simply filtering and monitoring internet access only.
By reviewing the student’s whole journey–as opposed to just the end event–it may highlight trends/issues that otherwise would not have been picked up, allowing the school to gain a real insight into a student’s well being.
For example, a student searches for ‘laxies’ (a slang term for laxatives) and then, a couple of hours later, searches for ‘Walgreens’ (a retailer of dietary supplements including laxatives). Individually, these searches may seem inconsequential; however, when reviewed in sequence, they may indicate a potential issue related to eating disorders.
Based on keyword monitoring alone, this search is also unlikely to be flagged. However once the context is applied (i.e. the surrounding search sentence such as ‘how to use laxies to get thin’ vs ‘Best laxies to hide in my food’) it may highlight a more concerning trending topic that a school can review and decide whether it needs to launch direct intervention or group discussions to address the issue head-on.
The above example also highlights how crucial it is for schools to be aware of slang terms used by students (peer and grade levels) and ensure these are included in their keyword databases. Using databases built and maintained by school counselors and sharing databases with other schools also helps prevent gaps appearing that may compromise any student safeguarding initiative in place.
Online vs offline
Online safety is only one side of the coin; internet safety issues can also occur offline and then sometimes move online as students seek out information or advice. Having the full picture of what issues are trending and which students are vulnerable gives staff a starting point of areas or issues they should look out for.
Empower the students
Lastly, it’s important to remind students of the role they play in their own online safety and general well being, for example, by asking them to agree to the school’s Acceptable Usage Policy before going online.
Additionally, helping them to access help independently by supplying a tailored list of regionally available self-help resources or allowing students to report their concerns to a trusted member of staff is key to supporting students proactively.