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Dialogue is key to a healthy digital life – for children and parents

Responding to Call 10 of our 25 Calls campaign, National Parent Forum of Scotland Chair Joanna Murphy says that if schools can create a strong, shared set of values in their ‘offline’ community, they can do it online, too

Call 10: It's time to agree a common set of values in the digital world

In her call, Jess McBeath rightly speaks of the need for dialogue about the values we want to promote online (and offline) in Scotland and how these values can be built into our digital lives and landscape.

Social media is great for allowing us to interact and to create and exchange information. It can help parents stay connected and updated with what’s going on in the classroom, or issues that may impact at home. All of this is convenient and easy. When it’s working well, it can help create a sense of community, bringing people with common interests together – teachers, school support staff, parents, pupils and the wider community.

But social media has its downside. Many parents grew up in the pre-digital age so can often feel out of step with the online world around them. Not everyone uses it and not everyone uses it well. Some of that’s to do with social media itself. There are good and bad things about the ability to post pictures or respond ‘off the cuff’. But some of it is just down to how people respect, trust and treat one another (wittingly or unwittingly, online or offline).

Last year, a group of concerned headteachers approached us about the social media use of a minority of their parents. These parents had posted inappropriately, prompting the involvement of their local authority’s legal team. While we can’t excuse such behaviour, we understand that a parent is likely to become upset, frustrated and angry if they feel an issue with their child is not being dealt with appropriately.

Also, very recently, a social media hoax that was potentially harmful to young people took a long time to be curbed. It was said to be partly fueled by some parents posting comments on social media, inadvertently prompting searches on it by other people. These parents were posting because they were concerned, so needed prompt information and guidance.

What’s missing in many of these cases is dialogue, communication and relationships. These are key to dealing with issues before they escalate. As Jess said, the skills for good digital citizenship are “to make sound judgements, to resolve conflicts and to be self-aware”and these are equally applicable in our offline communities.

If we can build a set of common values as a school community offline, then these will automatically be reflected online. If a parent feels comfortable in their school and feels their view and knowledge of their own child is respected, then respect and trust follow both offline and online. If we are good at encouraging others – being helpful, learning from one another, sharing good times, having fun and setting a good example – we can do all that online, as well as offline.

How parents and teachers use social media is significant, not just because it makes for good relationships between them and within schools, but because they are role models for children and young people. Whole-school Twitter and Facebook accounts are increasingly popular, but few schools have an online policy which everyone in the wider school community can sign up to.

The National Parent Forum of Scotland is working hard to help make digital engagement work for all parents. School communities are crucial platforms, where people share common interests and values. Good parental engagement should be at the core of these communities, helping to educate and support parents in using the digital world to advantage.

Our children have the four capacities of Curriculum for Excellence at the heart of their learning, to become successful learners, responsible citizens, effective contributors and confident individuals. Isn’t that what we all would like to see online too? If parents understood how all of their child’s learning fitted into these capacities, they could better engage with them at home and this could be better reflected online and offline by the entire family.

As a result of our work with the Headteachers group, we created the Clicked social media resources to help schools and parent councils improve the experience for everyone. The response from parents, parent councils, schools and local authorities has been overwhelmingly positive and is indicative of the void of information that existed.

Digital is just one area of engagement that we need to work together to improve. When parents are engaged in their child’s learning, children do better – so NPFS will continue to work with all stakeholders to improve engagement for all parents across Scotland.

Joanna Murphy is Chair of the National Parent Forum of Scotland and is responding here to Call 10 of our 25 Calls campaign, ‘It's time to agree a common set of values in the digital world, by Jess McBeath.

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About the author

Joanna Murphy is Chair of the National Parent Forum of Scotland

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Call 10

It's time to agree a common set of values in the digital world

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25 Calls campaign

Find out more about the 25 Calls campaign, view press coverage and read further responses

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