Momo, sharenting and fake news: how can schools safeguard their pupils?

Dale Wilkins, head of safeguarding and standards at the Boarding Schools’ Association (BSA), discusses how schools can help pupils and parents use the internet safely

At the end of February, parenting forums were awash with warnings and anecdotes of ‘Momo’, an online persona who encouraged children to perform a series of dangerous and violent tasks. It transpired Momo wasn’t all it seemed and was arguably fake news. Parents heard the news, asked their children who in turn searched for Momo, and the cycle went on. While thankfully not real, the doll-like image, fuelled by media reports, fed parents’ worst internet safety fears.

At the other end of the scale, member schools are reporting a rise in ‘sharenting’, the act of parents over-sharing pictures and information about their children online. Coupled with the rise of ‘digital-kidnapping’ – when a stranger steals a minor’s photo from the internet and posts the photo as if it’s their own – many parents are still posting over-familiar images of their children, personal information and even key locations the child frequents. This puts not only their digital presence at risk but also potentially makes their child physically vulnerable.

In the middle of this internet storm are our schools. There is no doubt that children are increasingly at risk online, and we adults are digital immigrants who are inevitably behind the curve. How then can schools assist pupils and parents in navigating the digital world safely?

Many parents are still posting over-familiar images of their children, personal information and even key locations the child frequents

The answer: open, two-way, honest and frequent communication. BSA recommends incorporating digital safety training into your parent communications as well as pupil lessons. Schools are well versed in teaching pupils to check their privacy and location settings, but increasingly, the parent body is lulled into a false sense of security within their social media groups and being less vigilant about the implications their posts are having on their child’s digital footprint.

A few simple guidelines will help parents and pupils to navigate social media more safely:

Report suspicious apps and sites to the relevant authority

Some online safety groups reported they had not been approached by schools when the Momo news broke. In the event Momo had been real they would be able to guide how to navigate the situation.

Privacy settings

A seemingly obvious one but check your settings. It is always worth checking privacy settings regularly as social media companies periodically change their terms which can have an impact on your privacy settings.

Know your contacts

Are you really friends with 400+ people? Would your child be comfortable with your one-time housemate from university knowing what school/swimming club etc they attend?

Think before you share

Will this image have an impact on your child’s future? How would a potential future employer view your child’s images? Could the image attract unwanted attention?

Further information on online safety and general safeguarding is available from the BSA for member schools.

Dale Wilkins will be leading a safeguarding panel at the BSA’s Annual Conference for Heads from 7–9 May in London, and an online safety seminar on 15 May in the South East.

Please visit or call 0207 798 1580 for further details.

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