- Communicating with others online can allow children to connect with other people who may share similar interests and views, and this can be very positive and beneficial. Children may consider some of their online-only contacts to be friends.
- Children may also use online services to manage and build their friendships with friends they first made offline (e.g. school friends or friends from their local community). As these friendships take place both offline and online, they can be considered different to online-only friendships as the identity of that friend is not in doubt.
- Just like offline friendships, online friendships can have their difficulties. Disagreements, mistakes and misunderstandings can all take place online as they can offline. Because contact may take place through messages, it can sometimes be harder for children to recognise how others are feeling as they cannot see a person’s facial expressions or body language, or hear the tone of their voice.
- Talk to your students about the highs and lows of friendships, including what goes right but can also go wrong online. Discuss strategies for resolving issues, such as the importance of apologising for something that upsets or offends others, even if it was accidental. Ask students to list the most common online friendship issues they experience and then work as a class to find positive solutions to resolve those issues. Students could role play these scenarios and explore how different solutions might lead to different outcomes.
- Talk to your students about peer pressure online – what sort of things do their friends (or others) do/say that makes them feel this way? Discuss ways that they could deal with these problems; you could help teach them ways to say ‘no’ or to show assertiveness online. Social and emotional learning can also equip your students with the understanding and vocabulary to tell others about how they are feeling when they are feeling pressured or uncomfortable.
- Discuss the concepts of friends/followers and online popularity with your students. Remind them that, while it can feel good to have lots of online contacts, adding people you don’t know to your lists may allow them to contact you more easily or see more of your personal details. Encourage them to consider carefully who they add to their friends or followers lists.
- Encourage positive and respectful online behaviour and ways in which your students can help and support others online. You could ask students to make a pledge of something positive they will always aim to do online, or create an agreed class charter for ways your students will aim to be ‘good friends’ to others online.