Keeping Students Safe Online

This article by Keir McDonald MBE reminds us of the importance of keeping children safe online and appeared on retired Headteacher, Julia Skinner's The Head's Office Blog.

We spend so much time teaching kids to look both ways before crossing the street, not to talk to strangers and what to do if they get lost in a shopping mall.

But how much time do you spend telling kids how to make safe choices online?

For today’s generation of children, making safe choices pertains to physical as well as cyber environments. Children today don’t know life without the Internet and need guidance navigating life online as much as offline.

While it can be challenging for teachers to work e-safety into their classroom curriculum, the topic has never been more important.

Here are three ways for educators to effectively introduce e-safety to young students.

Help Children Understand Safe Sharing on the Internet

Begin by clearly illustrating to children that the Internet is public domain. Many children don’t understand the consequences of sharing inappropriate information on the Internet.

Introduce children to the concept that some things, such as photos or content that could be hurtful to someone else, should not be shared online.

An effective way to teach children about appropriate sharing on the Internet is to use real-life examples. Consider sharing with students a specific example where someone shared something inappropriate on the Internet. Start by citing mistakes made by public figures such as one of David Cameron’s many Twitter gaffes or Miley Cyrus’ numerous online mistakes.

Older students can also write or talk about a time they personally shared something online and regretted it. It’s very important to also discuss the consequences of these actions.

After sharing, engage in role-play to identify both good and bad examples of what to share online. Start by having students share with whom they have emailed recently and what they talked about in the email, followed by something that would be inappropriate to talk about in an email to that same person. This is simple but extremely effective in that it gets kids thinking about the fact that it’s not safe or smart to share some things online.

Understand With Whom Specific Information Can Be Shared

Talking to students about confidential information, such as passwords, is also a critical component of e-safety.

Children create online usernames and passwords for things like school programmes, game websites, social networking, and posting photos every day. Because parents and teachers often monitor these passwords, children don’t think twice about sharing this information with their friends.

Kids need to understanding when it’s ok to share passwords and other confidential information, and with whom, so they can learn how to keep passwords safe and secure.

Here teachers can role-play scenarios like sharing passwords with friends, discussing where passwords get written down or when and what it’s ok to share via email.

Identify Safe and Unsafe Websites

Part of teaching kids e-safety includes introducing new vocabulary. Terms like download, computer virus, block, stranger, personal, cyber-bullying, and bullying are all important for children to understand.

Teachers can begin this conversation by creating a list of specific websites that students visit while in school. Together, the class will create a list of safe and appropriate websites.

Consider keeping this list of safe websites as a resource that kids can use when browsing the Internet. If possible, photocopy the list so that students can take them home to share with their families.

About the Author

Keir McDonald MBE is founder and Director of EduCare, an online training solutions company that specialise in child protection, exploitation and online safety, and bullying and child neglect. EduCare is associated with both Kidscape and Family Lives and customers include over 4000 schools and colleges and 12000 pre-schools as well as councils, NHS, charities and more.

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