A good digital citizen is a person who uses the internet responsibly while being aware of the appropriate way to behave online and shunning activities that could potentially cause harm of any kind to oneself, or others. As an educator, it is the teachers’ responsibility to inculcate a sense of good digital citizenship in their students in this digitized world, so that children become good digital citizens and remain protected from being compromised in any capacity online.
In addition to an educator’s primary responsibility to persuade and inspire students to learn, comes the added duty to protect students.
Conventionally, protection may have been limited to monitoring school-related conduct and activities. However, in today’s digitally evolved world, a teacher’s charge to provide protection encompasses more realms than one.
An overwhelming majority of children now have access to the internet from an early age. In fact, according to a 2015 study, 1 in 3 internet users are children. The current generations of students are rather competent when it comes to dealing with technology. Nevertheless, this doesn’t necessarily mean they are equipped to handle the myriad of internet-related situations that could compromise their safety online.
In fact, the easy access and extreme comfort level that the current student generations enjoy increases the likelihood of students becoming vulnerable to a number of serious threats via digital and social connections.
Recent statistics show dangerous trends in terms of child online safety. Approximately 1 in 3 children have been subjected to cyberbullying, whereas 1 in 4 children report having received or witnessed racist and hate messages online.
Additionally, a study shows 25% of underage internet users have revealed that they’ve come across upsetting content on social media, while US statistics reveal 1 in 7 (13%) of young internet users have received unwanted sexual solicitations online.
Therefore, it rests on the shoulders of parents and educators to teach children how to best stay protected from the potential threats awaiting them online. Well-informed students are able to avoid becoming involved in compromising online situations, and they are also more capable of thwarting digital threats.
Moreover, this education instills a sense of purpose in students to become good digital citizens and learn the appropriate ways in which to conduct themselves on all online platforms.
The following is a comprehensive guide designed for educators to enable them to efficiently and appropriately communicate internet safety practices to their pupils in a school setting.
A number of basic laws comprise the overall system in which the government regulates child internet safety. Teachers need to be aware of these laws in order to familiarize themselves with the process of teaching and implementing internet safety for children.
The basic internet safety laws are:
This federal law is implemented in all kindergarten through high school (K-12) education institutes and libraries in the United States.
CIPA mandates that schools follow a stringent internet policy by enforcing filters and other similar procedures to protect children from exposure to unsafe online content. Schools which fail to comply with CIPA are denied federal funding until they do so.
Schools are thus required to block access to pictures and websites containing obscene imagery and content. Schools subject to CIPA must also provide training and instructions to children regarding correct online conduct. Students are to be taught how to appropriately interact with others on digital social channels, and this includes educating them on the matter of cyberbullying.
This is a major law which imposes a number of stipulations on online services and websites which target and cater to children less than 13 years old.
Websites subject to COPPA are directed to collect demonstrable proof that any information collected from an underage user is done so with the consent of his/her parent or guardian. These websites and services are also required to post clearly outlined privacy policies and provide parents of underage users with a notice of said information policies.
Aside from these implemented and established laws, educators must be made aware of the following online practices which are most likely to threaten the safety of students online:
Cyberbullying is among the most prominent threats facing children today and can have devastating consequences on a child’s mental and emotional health. Cyberbullying is also becoming increasingly common with every 1 in 3 children reporting having experienced it at least on one occasion.
Cyberbullying can lead to serious psychological diseases such as anxiety and depression. Furthermore, cyberbullying has led several students to become suicidal. Cyberbullying is a highly prevalent practice among school going children.
Therefore, not only is it important to make students aware of the threat of cyberbullying and how it can be thwarted, it is equally important to educate students on refraining from being a perpetrator of cyberbullying themselves.
With the proliferation of convenience in instant messaging and digital communication, many trends have sprouted up among the younger generation, including that of sexting. This term refers to the sending and receiving of sexually explicit or sexually suggestive photographs, videos or texts through messaging media.
The latest study reveals that 1 out of 7 teens (15%) has sent texts, and 1 in every 4 students (25%) report having received sexts. The concerning stats revealed, however, that approximately 12% of sexts are forwarded without the consent of the original sender.
Sexting is a problematic trend when it comes to minors (i.e. individuals less than 18 years of age) because possession of nude photographs of a minor is equivalent to possessing child pornography. Other consequences of leaked sexts include harassment, blackmailing, and cyberbullying.
Sexting is therefore, an easily criminalized act and students are to be made aware of the consequences of their sexually explicit content falling into the wrong hands.
Educators must help students understand that any messages, pictures, or videos sent via smartphones or on the internet are never really anonymous or private. Their personal pictures, videos, and texts could be on display for the world to see within seconds.
If compromising sexual content goes public, it can cause students humiliation and public ridicule. Moreover, it can have undesirable impacts on their reputation as a student as well as on their professional future.
Rules are essential for enabling an understanding of what to do, and what not to do. Therefore, creating and enforcing some internet rules in the classroom setting is an ideal way of teaching students the correct way to conduct for a good digital citizen.
When setting internet policies in the classroom, educators must clearly communicate to the students their expectations. Educators must also ensure that the rules applied are reasonable and enforceable and that students are frequently reminded of these policies.
Depending on the grade taught by the teacher, the specific nature of these rules will vary accordingly. Teachers must therefore carefully create age-appropriate and reasonably. However, some basic internet rules will apply to students of all ages, such as engaging respectfully in online social interactions and refraining from providing personal information online.
For younger pupils who are in elementary school and only just learning the proper ways to use technology and access the internet, the following rules can be set in the classroom:
Older children already have experience in using technology for a few years and therefore have more knowledge of computers and the internet. The rules applied to middle school students should, therefore be as follows:
As well as creating and communicating a classroom internet and technology policy, educators are also recommended to create posters reflecting the same to hang near the computers.
Although this act may seem more applicable to elementary grades, even students in middle school frequently tend to use classroom technology as their own. Therefore, the posters should serve as constant reminders of the strict internet and technology rules.
The harmful effects of cyberbullying are not only short-term, they can be long-lasting as well. No student, of any age, ethnicity, religion or background, is safe from cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying can only be curbed by the creation and stringent implementation of anti-cyberbullying policies. Such policies help schools safeguard their students by creating a safe, non-threatening learning environment. Through these rules, students are taught to treat each other with respect online and only use positive and appropriate language.
These rules will not only discourage students from committing acts of bullying online, it will also make it easier for other students to report any instances of cyberbullying experienced or witnessed by them.
While creating the anti-cyberbullying policy, educators must first and foremost ensure that the rules are in line with any district, federal or national policies and laws which are implemented in the state or country that the school is in.
Once laid out, these rules must be communicated to the students clearly. A good idea is to announce the anti-cyberbullying policy at the start of every school year. The rules should be properly enforced all year long and students should be sent reminder notices.
Schools must also create a system for reporting cyberbullying to the right authorities who can handle the matter accordingly. There should be strict yet reasonable consequences for the student found guilty of committing acts of cyberbullying.
In this regard, the most important thing is to make sure that students feel like they have safe space to report and discuss any instance where they felt victimized by online harassment. As this is a sensitive matter, all reports should be kept secure and confidential.
Besides teaching students the proper way to conduct themselves online through education and implementation of rules, it is also important for educators to keep parents in the loop in regards to this matter as well.
Internet education must be followed with the same rigor at home as well as in school. When the school internet policies and decorum is clearly communicated to the parents, it enables parents to also become aware of the dangers their children could potentially face online.
This empowers parents to become more proactive and involved in their child’s internet education and safety, thereby doubling the efficiency of these efforts and minimizing the overall instances of child safety compromise.
Although each family’s perspective of acceptable internet use varies, there are basic protocols for safe internet behavior which should be reinforced by all parents for the sake of their child’s protection and well-being.
A good way to involve parents in this endeavor could be by holding a dedicated Parents’ Night at the school where large groups of parents are taught about digital citizenship.
However, each student’s parents should also be communicated with individually and provided updates regarding the child’s online activity and conduct both at school and at home.
This way, any warning signs or behaviors indicating poor digital citizenship can be noticed before it’s too late to rectify the situation. This particularly applies to older students, especially teenagers, who are at greatest risk of being involved in dangerous online behaviors.
With teachers communicating the school’s internet rules to their respective grades, and the school administration enforcing filters to block harmful or unsuitable content on the school’s tech devices, the issue of student safety can be confronted to some extent.
However, this is simply not enough. It is imperative that educators monitor the students’ online activities to guarantee that no student is, purposefully or unknowingly, exposing himself/herself to inappropriate or dangerous content.
Educators can achieve this not only by keeping a check on students while they are accessing the internet but also by checking the internet browsing history of all classroom computers. This way, teachers can pick up on patterns or behaviors they may have missed.
In this day and age, children are introduced to technology in elementary school, and students in grades 3-5 frequently use technology as a learning tool in the classroom.
The reason for the growing use of technology in even elementary classroom settings goes beyond expediency. Children thrive when they are taught in an environment whether they are eager to engage with technology and it further encourages them to learn a range of advanced skills and accumulate greater knowledge.
Teachers of elementary grades should be focused on providing children fundamental internet and technology knowledge. Elementary school children need to be made aware of the fact that there are potential threats online and they must learn how to stay safe when using the computer
Basic online safety rules are the need of the hour, as elementary school students are at the age where they are just beginning to explore the concepts of the internet and social networking.
Although they are unlikely to be engaging in social media postings or creating accounts on websites, they still need to be made aware of the concepts of internet privacy and safety.
This way, they develop a proper understanding of the internet and appropriate internet behaviors from a young age, and these teachings are consistently reinforced down the line.
Children at that age learn best from examples that they can relate to the situation. So, for instance, teachers can take examples of real-life travel safety rules such as traffic safety to demonstrate that digital citizens also have to follow safety rules when “traveling” in the online world.
Some of the most fundamental rules that students must be taught at this age are:
However, educators are encouraged that, instead of teaching children to “not” do something, they should be taught the right way to do things by using positive “yes” language and avoiding “don’ts”.
Children are warned about interacting with strangers, or people who they are not familiar with, from a very early age. Just as parents teach children not to talk to strangers in real life, teachers must help students understand that strangers exist online as well, and make children aware of online “stranger danger”.
Elementary school students’ parents already instruct them to avoid talking to strangers in person and refrain from revealing their personal information like their name, age or address. Educators must teach students that the same rules apply when they are confronted by strangers present online.
In this process, it is important that teachers do not frighten children, or teach them that all strangers are “bad”. For instance, many schools have students from elementary grades and upwards engage in online pen pal activities to encourage a spirit of friendship and international relations.
Students should, however, learn to never speak to a stranger online without the express permission and approval of the teacher or a parent. Nor should they ever reveal any personal information to strangers, or agree to meet that person in real life.
At such a young age, students do not know what type of information is “personal”, and what type of information is appropriate for sharing online.
Often times, when engaging in online social interactions and friendships, younger students are likely to give away personal information that could compromise their safety. Students must therefore be taught that online and offline friendships are different.
Furthermore, students should also be taught that just because a website or program is requesting your personal information that does not mean that you provide it. It is important to get the approval of a teacher or parent before you do so.
In a classroom setting, elementary students should only be allowed to access the websites which have been approved for learning and teaching purposes.
Teachers must ensure that students know the consequences of opening and using unapproved websites at school. Students must also be taught to take a teacher or parent’s permission before they access a new website which they have never used before.
Elementary school is the time when students should start learning about appropriate and inappropriate online behaviors so that they can conduct themselves accordingly on the internet.
As, at this age, students’ online activities are heavily monitored, it is an ideal opportunity to start inculcating the behaviors that constitute a good digital citizen.
Educators must therefore teach elementary students about the concept of cyberbullying, why no one should do it, what are the consequences of doing it, and how to handle it if someone is cyberbullying you.
Through this topic, teachers can introduce the appropriate online behaviors, with the main focus being on treating others with politeness, respect, and kindness online.
Middle school students spend more unmonitored and unfiltered time on the internet and enjoy greater access to technology both at home and at school.
With this greater freedom on the internet comes a greater responsibility, and it is the duty of the teachers to make children aware of their responsibility to be good digital citizens.
Middle school students must think more carefully about their online actions and behaviors, and understand that everything they do and say online leaves an impression. They must be taught to think rationally in online situations rather than to casually enter any online situation without any concern for their safety and well-being.
This is the time for teachers to educate students about what constitutes inappropriate online behaviors, and delve deeper into the concept of cyberbullying.
While elementary school students were taught about stranger danger, for middle school students, the same concept should be taught with more specific details to help them realize the gravity of the matter.
Middle school students often enter online chat rooms and messaging services for social interaction out of curiosity and influence from peers. They are therefore at risk of being exposed to online predators.
Educators must teach students how to avoid engaging with predators, how to identify predatory behavior, and how to exit predatory situations if they happen to find themselves in one.
They should therefore be made aware of typical predatory behaviors such as requesting personal information online, and inappropriate questions such as “what are you wearing?”
Middle school students have often already made accounts on social media and thus begun to form their individual online identities. This is why it is critical for teachers to help them understand that the information they share about themselves online could be viewed and used by people they may not be aware of.
Often, students forget that the way they act online can result in serious consequences as the way they behave in the real world can. Middle school students need to be taught how to recognize who is a friend and who isn’t, which content is appropriate to post online, and how to engage with others on social media.
This is also the perfect age where students should be made aware of other dangers lurking online, particularly those of malicious link sharing and people who con others online. While adults can usually identify and avoid these types of scams and links, children are often unable to.
Even in computers where parental controls, safe browsing protocol, and antivirus and firewall are installed, sometimes such websites and links still show up on the screen, enticing naïve users to click.
Educators must teach students what these scammers want, and how to recognize these types of threats so that they can be thwarted immediately.
Middle school students are highly prone to experiencing all kinds of cyberbullying, from threats, to harassment to public humiliation.
This is the time to teach the students that they have a responsibility to take action if they witness any incident of cyberbullying because allowing cyberbullying to happen is not something that good digital citizens do.
Students should also be reminded that they have a safe space to report any instances of cyberbullying.
By the time students enter high school, they are doyens of navigating the internet. However, this does not negate the fact that they are still young and naïve, and their comfort level with the internet simply makes them more vulnerable to becoming compromised online.
High school students need to be made aware of the fact that the type of digital citizens they are, can and will reflect their academic and professional future in drastic ways.
With high school students becoming involved in romantic relationships, comes the pressure of engaging in a new range of online behaviors, especially sexting.
Before educators communicate with high school students on this matter, they should ensure that they have created a safe space and that they use appropriate language and examples to explain to the students that these types of behaviors are not, in fact, safe.
Students must also be discouraged from oversharing personal information online, particularly on their social media profiles, as there is always a risk of this information being shared and used by people they do not know or trust.
It is also imperative that teachers emphasize the importance of avoiding sharing explicit, offensive, or humiliating content that is sent from somebody else. This act is equivalent to being a perpetrator of cyberbullying. There should be reasonable consequences in place for people who continue to cyberbully others.
High school students are still too young and carefree to seriously consider that their online identity and digital footprint could in fact play a role in shaping their future. A wrong move online could even affect their college acceptance or ability to find jobs.
Educators must therefore impart wisdom to high school students in this matter and make them aware of the significance of their digital footprint so that every action they make online henceforth is well thought-out and made with a rational, careful mind.
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