Teaching Children About Staying Safe on the Internet

This week we have something new on BuzzingEd – a GUEST blogger…  Natalie Hunter grew up wanting to be a teacher, and is addicted to learning and research. She is fascinated by the different methodologies for education at large today, and particularly by the advent of online education.

Teaching internet safety is both a challenge and an opportunity for parents and educators. Children are increasingly active online and are more likely than ever to encounter some dangerous situations. Learning how to handle these events will not only help them stay safe but also teach them critical thinking skills that will be useful throughout their lives. Instead of worrying about the safety of ventures onto the web, the adults in a child’s life need to teach him or her how to avoid danger and how to deal with uncomfortable situations when they arise.

Some parents and teachers simply use parental controls to limit a child’s access to internet sites that may be inappropriate. However, this does not teach children to think for themselves, and it will not necessarily keep them safe on the web. Today’s youngsters are generally more computer savvy than their parents and even their teachers, especially if they go to school online and have a familiarity with that sort of interaction. They learn from other kids how to get around barriers. The best way to keep them within safe boundaries is to teach them to think before they type.

Another skill that every child should learn is how to summon aid when she feels threatened. They need to know that getting help right away is the correct thing to do, and that they need never feel embarrassed about having done so. In the end, each child’s safety depends on learning guidelines for security and being able to apply them in any situation. This is the education the children cannot do without.

For children ages 7 to 10, the BBC has developed an educational site about web safety that parents or teachers can use with kids. This site has a mnemonic for teaching internet safety associated with the word “SMART:”

S: Keep Safe. Don’t give out personal information such as name, address, any telephone number (including mobile), email address, school name or friends’ names. Keep passwords and nicknames undisclosed. Make up a screen name that isn’t related to any real life information. Don’t send text or photo messages to people you don’t know, because your mobile number goes with them.

M: Don’t Meet Up. Never agree to meet an online friend, even ones that are longstanding. If this isn’t avoidable, take a trusted adult along.

A: Accepting Emails Can Be Dangerous. Always delete email from someone you don’t know. If you do open an email that says something that makes you uncomfortable or tells you to download something, tell a trusted adult. Likewise, don’t accept text messages or open links on a mobile phone from people you don’t know.

R: Reliable? People on the web may not be who they say they are. Information you get in a message or find while using mobile phone might not be reliable.
 Think of how easily you can play pretend on the internet; how much so for anyone else!

T: Tell Someone. Always tell a trusted adult straightaway if you feel uncomfortable or worried about what someone said online. Report the person if there is an alert button on the site. Then log off and leave the website.

For older children and teens, you can visit the website of the Washington State Office of the Attorney General for a set of age appropriate tips on how to avoid harassment, victimization and exploitation online. The discussion covers commercialisation and other issues that teenagers may not be aware of. This is a good educational site for children and adults alike who use the internet and are not aware of all the implications. Another site parents and educators can use to teach internet safety is NetSmartzWorkshop.org. The site includes videos and lesson plans for primary, intermediate, middle school, and high school classrooms. The site is sponsored by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (U.S.A.).

Much of internet safety depends on protecting privacy. With adequate and reliable information, parents and educators can work with children to develop safe and appropriate ways of using the web. The skills gained in this process are vital for internet safety and can also carry over into other areas of learning. Thinking critically and applying sensible rules will help children stay secure not only on the web but everywhere they go.

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