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Words: Kirsty Ketley

 

Back to school means our newsfeeds will be filled with the obligatory photos of children standing on their doorstep, kitted out in their new school uniform.

While it’s great to have a yearly momento, there are a few things that parents should consider though before sharing their photos online.

It is important that you make sure your child’s school badge is covered, not only on the uniform but on bags too. Without having strict privacy settings on your account, you run the risk of anyone seeing what your child looks like, who they are and where they go to school, which can be dangerous. Without meaning to, you can be giving out personal information to strangers who will use it to gather information such as your child’s date of birth, address, school and even their full name, which can not only lead to cyber bullying, but also to identity theft. Therefore, taking a minute to review your settings is a must but blurring out the badge is good as an extra precaution.

Next, ensure that your house isn’t easily identifiable – so avoid having your house number or road name in the photos, and if you are wanting to take photos of your child once in school – on their first day, for instance, ensure that other children’s faces are not visible.

Then, check that your social media platforms are not using geo tagging, so that the location of the photo is not uploaded too. You can turn geo tagging off in your settings.

It is also a good idea to ask friends and family to seek your permission to share any photos of your children too, and be mindful that even if you have strict privacy settings, people can still take a screen grab of your photos.

It’s not just taking photos that can put your child at risk though…

It is every parent’s priority to ensure that their child is safe from harm, especially when they are not with them, but did you know, placing your child’s name on their school bags, in full view of everyone, can actually help aid ‘stranger danger’?

If a potential abductor happened to see your child’s name, they could use this as a way of making them think that they are friendly and can be trusted. It can be hard for children to distinguish strangers from acquaintances – the good people from the bad, so when someone uses their name, they may believe that they know them, or that their parents do and that this makes it ok to talk with this adult.

The best way to avoid this happening, is to be discreet in labelling your kids things – so putting names on the inside of the bag or on labels that cannot be removed. If lost, the item can still be returned, but their name isn’t obviously on view.

Of course, you want your child to be able to recognise their belongings too, so using keyrings or stickers that can help your child know which bag, lunch bag or pencil case is theirs’ are better ways to help.

It is important to acknowledge though, that while it is frightening to think of your child being abducted, the risks are small – strangers abduct less than 1% of the children who are reported missing each year. That said, there is still a risk and one that is not worth taking.

With that in mind, before school starts, being aware of the potential risks, beyond labelling your kids bags safely, is important.

Your child’s greatest risks come from those that they know or who are acquainted with the family in some way, so ensuring that they know how to stay safe, even with people they recognize is vital. A safe word can be useful to have, that the child can remember and only people who are authorized to pick them up will know.

Communicating with your child about how to stay safe is a must and this is where a safety plan is useful. This could include;

  • Teaching your child where they can go for help when walking a familiar route, such as school
  • Reminding them to stay in a group when travelling
  • Reminding them about the risks of accepting lifts or changing plans without your permission
  • Helping them understand the tricks that abductors like to use, such as offering money or sweets, or asking for help
  • Encourage them to tell a ‘safe’ adult whenever anything or anyone makes them uncomfortable.

It is also worth pointing  out though,  that not all strangers are dangerous and that our children need to feel comfortable in asking for help if they need it. Focussing on the behaviours of adults – what rules and expectations are acceptable and what is not, is therefore best, rather than types of people.