We are all addicted


There has been so much in the news lately about online or gaming addiction.  The World Health Organisation has listed “gaming disorder” as a mental health condition.     I have to say, these gaming companies, are doing an amazing job at using persuasive technology to keep us all hooked.  I know from my own experience, that I am addicted to my phone; I automatically take it everywhere I go. I have to work hard at just leaving it at home.  But my life will not end without it.

I was at an event a few weeks ago and I was chatting with a colleague about technology addiction.  We both went into our phones and changed the settings so that our scenes were black and white.  It felt completely

strange, almost boring and I didn’t feel engaged.  I lasted about an hour with my settings; my friend lasted longer, but we both reverted to the colour scene.  We have been trained to see a phone in colour and to be notified every time something happens.  I am sitting in a café now, watching the world go by, as I type this blog.  I would say 8 out of 10 people are on their phones; they could be listening to music, reading messages or on Social Media.  What we are failing to realise, or maybe choosing to ignore, is that technology companies are deliberating building tech to be addictive.  All of these companies are commercial enterprises and are earning money from our usage. They want us to spend more time online; the longer we stay connected, the more money we are worth.

Technology companies apparently use psychology, including using the anticipation of a reward to our actions to create habit forming behaviour.   The 3 dots which appear when someone else is typing are put there to keep you hooked.  You are waiting for that response. Our phones refresh automatically, yet, we pull down to refresh, because we anticipate pleasure from receiving a new message.  You do not need to, it is making us stay on our phones for longer.  When that Red 1 appears, our human instinct wants to get rid of it, resolve it and make it disappear.  Once it is cleared, we are happy again.  I think Facebook get the gold medal for keeping us hooked, with likes, loves, memories and much more.  That Red 1 has a lot to answer for.  We should look at our own habits and not be surprised when our children seem addicted to their screens.

An NHS Trust is launching a partly NHS-funded internet addiction clinic and it is great that they will provide for support for those small number of extreme cases where lives are severely impacted by gaming.  Most of our children are not addicted to that extent but many parentsare concerned about the amount of time they spend online, be it gaming, watching YouTube or on social media.  We know it impacts on their sleep, eyesight, social interaction, physical activity, reading or doing homework.  Yes, it might help their hand/eye coordination but so would hitting a ball outside!

I was with a friend at the weekend and whenever she takes Fortnite away from her son, he literally wrecks the house and starts smashing things up.  Yes, he has an addiction but at some point, my friend gave into his demands. He has learnt that if he kicks off enough the parent will give in and he wins.   Where has our backbone gone regarding managing our children’s internet or gaming usage.  We have become lazy.It is easier just to leave them on the screen, where they are quiet instead of having a battle or,  dare I say it, engaging positively with our children.

We also need to set a good example.  64% of children want their parents TO PUT DOWN THEIR DEVICES. I get we all have busy lives but,

come on, what happened to good old-fashioned parenting.  We really do have to try to curb our own addiction and lead by example.  I have switched off all my notifications on my social media: it stops me waiting for those “likes”.  As a result, I visit Facebook, Instagram less.  At night I put my phone on Do Not Disturb.  I do not receive emails, phone calls or texts from anyone that isn’t on my favourites list from 8pm – 7am.  We also, have to, at some point, stop blaming the companies for everything that is happening to us and our children; we have to start taking responsibility for ourselves.  After all business is business and although there are useful campaigns to change their behaviour, ultimately it is up to us to be aware of and help our children to resist their ploys.

Here’s a challenge for you.  This week go out without your phone, go for a walk, get your children to come with you and ALL leave the phones behind.

Let’s teach ourselves and our children that it is great to disconnect from the online world every now and then.  Life is short and there is a wonderful, physical world just outside the door.

Education or regulations?

Educating rather than blocking  

Our latest Gooseberry Alert is now on the platform.  This one is all about Changing Perceptions.

The Department for Education recently updated its statutory guidance Keeping Children Safe In Education which will apply to all schools from 3rd September 2018. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/keeping-children-safe-in-education–2

The DfE appears to be shifting its emphasis from relying on blocking and filtering, to advocating a more holistic approach including teaching online safety for the whole school community.  It is also encouraging that the government is recognising that online safety impacts many safeguarding issues including child sexual exploitation, radicalisation and sexual predation.

In the September 2016 statutory guidance, blocking and filtering were made mandatory, but thankfully the DfE has realised that children have 3G or 4G on the phones, so no matter how much schools filter and block, the risks to children’s safety from their online activities do not disappear.  Schools might well be protecting themselves in case they are sued, but what is really important is that they protect children.

 “Governors and proprietors should consider a whole school approach to online safety. Whilst it is essential that governing bodies and proprietors ensure that appropriate filters and monitoring systems are in place, they should be careful that “over blocking” does not lead to unreasonable restrictions as to what children can be taught with regard to online teaching and safeguarding”

“The use of technology has become a significant component of many safeguarding issues. Child sexual exploitation; radicalisation; sexual predation: technology often provides the platform that facilitates harm.  An effective approach to online safety empowers a school or college to protect and educate the whole school or college community in their use of technology and establishes mechanisms to identify, intervene in and escalate any incident where appropriate.”

I think the question we need to ask ourselves is, “What is an effective approach?”  Do we expect children

to learn this subject in one-off lessons or in an assembly?  Since when did we learn how to swim in one lesson?  There is no programme or process for schools to follow.  What needs to go wrong before schools start to take notice, and realise that it is not enough to just tick a box after giving a PowerPoint presentation?

Online grooming is one of the biggest fears of any parent.  Children are being groomed via games, such as Fortnite, Roblox and Minecraft.  We need to teach them what to be aware of, how someone might groom them and how a potential offender might behave towards them.  Until we start using the right language we will not have an impact.

We talk to children about their online and offline lives but we need to realise that they see little distinction; being online is a huge and natural part of their lives.  Being a mother of two boys aged 11 and 16, I know that if I shut down their access to the internet, I shut down access to their friends and social circles.  Just as we teach children about road safety, we need to help them to develop the skills to be aware of dangers online.  We cross the road with them when they are younger but at some stage they have to cross the road by themselves.  Blocking will never allow them to be aware of the risks and signs of danger.  Furthermore, I believe online safety should be taught at a very early age.  With recently published statistics showing that 71% of 5/6 years olds have an internet enabled device in their bedrooms and that 4 in 10 children under the age of 13 have been approached by someone they do not know, we need to start children’s online education much earlier.  New figures out from O2, reveal that 98% of children being groomed are under the age of 13 years old.

Many parents are unable to keep up with what their children are doing and where potential dangers lie in the rapidly changing technology world which their children can readily access.  Over 50% of teachers feel uncomfortable teaching the subject and yet 65% of parents want schools to teach their children about online safety.   Until the DfE recognises online safety as a necessary life skill which needs to be taught in the same way as any other subject on the curriculum, the problem will grow.

Copy and paste this link https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/8461769308535695106 and share with all of your parents.

This is free of charge and anyone in your school can register.  Just click here.  Are you interested in holding an event for your school group or trust?

Please email hello@gooseberryplanet.com and we can arrange an event for you.


How do we deal with trendy tech?


I know you are most probably sick to death of GDPR, but I am afraid I must make sure we are compliant as a company.  Please can you follow this link and check your preferences to ensure that we only send you what you want to receive.  Thank you.

Our latest Gooseberry Alert is now on the platform.  This one is all about Trendy Tech.  I was taking a Parent Workshop a couple of weeks ago and there was a big concern about the constant pressure to upgrade to  the latest phones  and the impact it has on children who have a standard phone, not a smart phone.  Unfortunately, some children are being bullied due to having an old-fashioned phone.

This is such a hard subject to tackle and I am not sure there is an answer. We want our children to be popular and sometimes give in to their desire to keep up with the brands, rather than teaching them how to responds to the taunts and brush it off.  Maybe we need to toughen up a little and not try and keep up with the Jones’s.   My eldest son lost his mobile  earlier this year.  I refused to buy him a new one and he had to live with an iPad for months, without the ability to text or call anyone.  It did teach him a lesson about taking care of valuable things.   We do seem to live in a bit of a culture of never saying “no”.  This isn’t just with technology but in other aspects of our lives too.  The more parents who just say “no”, the more solidarity there will be amongst those without the latest stuff.  Its important that our children learn the life lesson that even as adults we can’t have everything we would like, and often the objects of our desire are treasured more if we have had to work and save for them.  If children have to earn these privileges by doing chores, or saving up their pocket money, they will value them more and perhaps take greater care of them too.

Of course the other way we can help address thi s sort of problem is by making sure it is not our children who are doing the bullying.  We should talk to our children about what makes someone a good friend, or a good citizen and remind them that judging people on their possessions is a very shallow and poor basis for such a judgement.  Remind them that, if they are lucky enough to have the latest phone, they should feel fortunate and not use it to brag or belittle others.

We are still holding parent workshops webinars.  You will be pleased to know that parents are engaging

and joining the webinars.  We have another one in a few weeks’ time, so just copy and paste this link https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/8461769308535695106 and share with all of your parents.

We also have had an amazing response to our Online Safety CPD, this is free of charge and anyone in your school can register.  Just click here


Children are being groomed every day via gaming apps

Children are being groomed every day via gaming apps and I really don’t think we have a real understanding of exactly how bad the figures are.  We already know that there is an increase in grooming and this is just from the children that have come forward.

Online Gaming is one of the areas that so many parents do not understand and, perhaps for that reason, choose to ignore.  Until a few years ago, I myself fell into that category.  I was sitting with my son while was playing a game via the Game Centre on MY iPhone.  Out of the blue, he said that a 25-year-old man who tried to contact him via a game, lived within 5 miles of our own house.  I felt physically sick.  I went into the Game Centre and realised that I had not checked the privacy settings of the app.  The function for nearby players to connect with my son was clicked on to “yes”.  I could blame the gaming company, (why on earth would you have this feature when children are playing the games?), but in fact, it was my responsibility as a parent to take the time and check these settings.  It is all too easy to blame others.

So many individuals have no concept of what information is being shared whilst gaming or even whether it is online or not.  Do you know what the average age of a gamer is?  Most people guess around 8-12 years, but the average is 31 years old.  So, what is perceived as like a children’s playground is, in reality, more like an arcade with a bunch of adults, predominantly male.

We need to sit with our children, watch them play or even join in, in the same way as reading a book, and be part of their online lives.  Gaming is a normal part of every-day life for them and we need to acknowledge this and give them guidance.  We need to talk about who they are playing with and about grooming, using appropriate language and in a way that empowers them rather than frightening them.  Terms like Stranger Danger can be misleading when teaching children about online risks.  People they meet through gaming online are not perceived as strangers.  Those with intent to groom are adept at identifying vulnerabilities and exploiting them to come across as a person who cares, a friend and someone they can trust.  It happens over time, so that they feel like a friend not a stranger.

Therefore, as a life skill we should be talking about grooming to children, encouraging them to play games only with friends they know in real life, to be wary of people they don’t know who try to befriend them, how to recognise when someone is flattering them and to question their motives, not to be afraid of unfriending, ignoring and turning off their microphone.  Encourage your children to discuss anything they feel uncomfortable about with you and reassure them that you won’t be angry if they make a mistake, that their safety is the most important thing to you.

It is so frustrating that game creators, just like Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram, want to create communities and want people connecting with each other, so they resist calls for privacy settings to default to private instead of public.  This would be such a simple way to keep our children safer and avoid the situation my son found himself in.  But money always seems to trump safety, so it is down to us to be vigilant and really understand what our children are doing online.

Gooseberry Parent – We have just released a new resource for parents.  It is all about the online game called Fortnite.  We also have the parent workshops that are FREE via a webinar.  Very popular and some fantastic feedback.

Gooseberry Alert

This month’s Gooseberry Alert focusses on ‘Online Gaming’, a great topic to share with your parents.  If you haven’t registered for this service already, please do.  It is free of charge just click here


GSchool Online Safety

Please login to Gooseberry Guru and you will find the new parent resource about the game Fortnite.  Please feel free to share with your parents.  It gives parents a real understanding of what the game is and how to manage it.  Click Here to register your school free of charge


Online Safety – Parent Webinar – 10th May 2018 at 8pm

Parent Online Safety Workshop

One of my biggest passions is to help parents understand what their children are accessing online.  I also understand how hard it is to get parents to attend t

he workshops you put on.  You always get the parents you don’t want and never get the ones you do want.   This is a webinar and lasts a maximum of 90 minutes.  Please copy and paste this link https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/8461769308535695106 and share with your parents and invite them to attend.  It is free and there is no sales pitch, just pure information and updates on the latest apps.

If your school is within a 90 minute journey of RG27 9HD, I will be happy to come and present one for you.  I would also help train a member of staff up to be a Gooseberry Guru.


Do you really want to understand what is going on online and how to manage your own settings within the most popular social media platforms?

Our sessions will provide you with the opportunity to reflect upon and question your own knowledge and give you the help and advice you need when talking to Parents and Students.  It is free of charge just sign up here