Keeping children safe online: A day at Julin children’s home

The internet. A place for learning, gaming, creating and connecting with others. Or, if you’re anything like me, a place to watch videos of dogs eating like humans on YouTube and upload filtered photos of the poached egg on toast you had this morning to your Instagram account.

Growing up with the internet

I’m from a generation that has grown up at the same rate as the internet. I started using it when I was 10 (a late-bloomer by today’s standards), back in the day of dial up modems and that strange, mechanical noise across the repurposed telephone infrastructure that for so many of us, signalled the beginning of joining the internet.

At that age, the internet was a place to do research for your homework and search for images of cute animals. By the age of 13, it was perfectly normal to log into chatrooms when you got home from school and MSN your friends until bedtime, under the pretence of doing homework. When I was 16, social media channels slowly started emerging, and by the time I turned 17, I had eschewed MSN for Facebook, which was infinitely cooler and let you ‘poke’ people.

Fast forward 10 years, and the digital landscape has changed dramatically. The internet has taken over our lives, and for children, that’s something that starts at a much younger age than it used to. As social media websites such as Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram become more and more popular, their users are becoming younger and younger. A report by the media watchdog Ofcom found that more than half of children aged as young as three uses a tablet, while one in seven has their own device. It’s also estimated that two thirds of European children have access to the internet in their own bedroom, whether that’s through a computer, laptop, tablet or mobile phone.

The dangers of the internet

As adults, we’re familiar with the more serious side of the internet – identity theft, cyberbullying and scams. We also know that what we do on the internet stays with us offline, but to many children, the online world isn’t the same as the real world. They have the freedom to act how they want, and say what they want, and because of that, this leaves them much more vulnerable.

Just like in real life, children need our help to stay safe online. Luckily, internet safety has improved massively over the last decade. Parental controls help you to prevent your child from stumbling across something they shouldn’t, by allowing you to block harmful content, control in-app purchases and manage how long your child spends on the internet. But it’s the conversation about online safety that teaches them to stay safe online. These conversations often take place at home or in school - but what about children who don’t have a home, or parents to talk to?

Ada’s plan

Ada Mrowczynska is a Business Support Manager based in our Warsaw hub. She also coordinates activities for our Families & Carers employee led network, which promotes a supportive work environment to enable parents and carers to achieve a great work-life balance. Ada has a son herself, who uses the internet at home and school, and it was her idea to organise a day at a local children’s home, to teach children about the importance of staying safe online.

“Julin is a children’s home based outside of Warsaw, and as a bank, we always try to do as much as we can to support them through volunteering and fundraising.’ Ada explained. ‘Over the years, we’ve developed a strong relationship with Agata Kuczynska, the manager of Julin, and the children who live there too.”

The children, she tells me, are between the age of 11 and 18, and most have come from difficult homes.

“Most of the children come to Julin because they can’t live with their own family. Julin offers them a place to develop and grow, and provides them with the safety and security they may otherwise be missing. When you visit Julin, you can see how the children, particularly the younger ones who are new to the home, are very vulnerable; they’re extremely shy and have very little confidence.”

It was this vulnerability that led to Agata asking Ada if RBS could organise a session on internet safety when they came to visit.

“She explained that a lot of the children have mobile phones and access to the internet, but very little awareness of online safety. She asked me if there was anything we could do to help with this, and I told her that we’d love to.”

Football with colleague, and professional football coach, Witold Przychodzien

Football with colleague, and professional football coach, Witold Przychodzien

Friend requests, passwords and being share aware

Ada got to work on putting together a plan for their day at Julin, which would cover a session on internet safety, but also involve a little bit of fun, too. “I wanted the main outcome of the day to be for the children to come away knowing what they needed to do to stay safe when using the internet,’ she told me, ‘But I also wanted it to be a fun event that would bring us all together. I decided that we’d start the day off with a 45 minute session on internet safety, followed by a football training session by my colleague and professional football coach Witold Przychodzien, and a bonfire in the evening.”

For the session, Ada enlisted the help of her colleagues in Risk & Security, Katarzyna Zurawska and Dominik Lewandowski. Together, they put together a presentation that covered why internet safety is so important, and how to stay safe online.

“Children are more forthcoming with their personal information on the internet, like their phone number or address, because they don’t understand the possible consequences. When they’re speaking to their friends online, or accepting a friend request from someone, they don’t think for a second about the possibility that the person on the other side of the screen could be somebody else.

We wanted to drive home the point that yes, the internet is a wonderful place to connect with your friends and learn new things, but it’s also important to stay safe. We spoke about the importance of creating strong passwords, being careful about what you share online, and taking care of their digital footprint. We also spoke about being careful with what you say and send to other people, and how once you press send, it’s no longer private.”

So did the children find it useful?

“Definitely,’ Ada says. “I think we all found it useful to be honest, but the children especially. You could tell from their faces. We wanted to make sure that if they did decide to log into a chat room, or accept an invite on Facebook, that they’d think twice before they make those online connections. Afterwards, we talked about what they’d learned, and it was clear that they understood that nothing disappears on the internet – what they do can last forever.”

Although there are risks and aspects of the internet that children need to be aware of, it’s important to remember that for each negative, there are a hundred positives that children – and adults - can benefit from. It’s being aware of these risks that makes the difference between an online experience that’s safe, and one that isn’t. And the more we continue to educate ourselves and our children, the safer the internet becomes.

Making a difference

Ada and her colleagues visited Julin through RBS’s volunteering programme, which lets all employees request to take time off to get involved in volunteering. The bank provides a minimum of three days a year to volunteer during business hours, which is in addition to an employee’s holiday entitlement and is paid leave.

This year, we’re on a mission to give back more hours than ever before, and give 100,000 hours of our time to the charities we care about. So what did Ada make of her volunteering experience?

“It was such a fantastic day, and really it’s thanks to the business that we were able to go and do something that will make such a difference to the children at Julin. One of the great things about RBS is how much it encourages its people to get involved in volunteering and community work, so that we can all make a difference. Not only is it a great way to bring something positive back to the community, but it’s a valuable opportunity to build new skills and form some really special relationships. There’s a real culture of caring, both in and out of the office, which for me, makes it a really great place to work.”

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