Advice for schools on responding to online challenges

Online challenges and crazes have become a key trend to be aware of when supporting and educating young people about how to stay safe online. Challenges come in many forms and can involve upsetting, harmful or viral content. Over the last few years we have seen a range of online challenges. Some, such as the ASL Ice Bucket Challenge and the No Makeup Selfie, can promote and raise money for great causes. However, other challenges such as "pain challenges", and "Neck Nominate" videos can harm young people and adults who take part. It is important that – whether a challenge is rumoured or real – educators have the tools they need and are ready to deal with such challenges and are able to support young people.

Date 2019-06-28 Author UK Safer Internet Centre Section awareness
The following guidance is adapted from a UK Safer Internet Centre resource for educational professionals on how to respond to any craze or hoax they may come across. It provides eight top tips to consider before taking any further action in responding to viral challenges and crazes in schools.
  1. Keep calm and do your research
    When online challenges are mentioned by young people or appear in the news, it's important to make sure you remain calm and have all the information you need to support young people effectively. If you think children or parents are worrying about the risks, then an emotional response can lead to them panicking more. Contact your national Safer Internet Centre (operating in many countries across Europe) for advice and support about all online safety concerns.
  2. Avoid showing any upsetting or scary content
    It's important to remember that even when something does go viral online it doesn't mean that all children have seen or heard of it. You can educate young people about the risks of online challenges without showing them any examples or giving explicit details. Instead, focus on the key advice and strategies which young people need to navigate any online risk (for example, talk about to adult, or report and block concerning content or contact).
  3. Avoid naming concerning or dangerous challenges
    Naming a challenge to young people, parents or carers could run the risk of spreading the reach of the challenge further. It could also put the focus on to one challenge rather than risks and advice which could empower young people in all areas of their online lives. So rather than focusing on a particular meme, challenge or image, give advice that can be applied in the event of anything happening online which worries, upsets or offends a young person.
  4. Give children opportunities to speak to you if they are worried
    It's important to give young people a time, place and person in school which they can talk to about anything which concerns them, including online issues. You could display this information in key areas of the school such as the lunch hall, toilets, classrooms and foyer. Online challenges and concerning content can bring up the need to talk about other concerning issues like self-harm and suicide so it's important that young people have access to the appropriate support needed.
  5. Talk to children about reporting and blocking
    It's important to give young people the strategies to deal with online content or contact which concerns them. This could be something they have witnessed or directly experienced. Social media, games and video platforms offer reporting and blocking tools which you can encourage young people to use. When making a report it is important that they give as much context as possible when reporting the concerning post, message or account directly.
  6. Talk about peer pressure
    One of the key issues raised over online challenges is that of peer pressure. Young people can sometimes be drawn into these challenges because it is what all their friends are doing – or seem to be doing – and saying "no" can seem like a very hard thing to do.
  7. Signpost to support
    It's important to ensure that young people, parents and carers all know where they can go to for support. This could be directing them to the appropriate members of staff in school as well as signposting to key helplines. National Safer Internet Centres provide a helpline service which you can contact for further help and advice.
  8. Engage with parents and carers appropriately
    It's important to engage with parents and carers about online safety risks and follow up any information you give to children. Again, it's important to follow the same advice as above and avoid sharing upsetting content or naming concerning or dangerous challenges.
This article was originally published on the UK Safer Internet Centre website and is reproduced here, in adapted form for a pan-European audience, with permission.
Find out more information about the work of the UK Safer Internet Centre generally, including its awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services, or find similar information for Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe.

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