A Guide for Teachers to Keep Students Safe on the Internet

13 min read by Bogdi

published un an în urmă, updated 5 luni în urmă

It seems like every generation is more and more submerged in the internet. While technology certainly keeps things interesting, the internet is both a valuable asset and a potential danger because of the sheer amount of information available. Devoting effort to keeping students safe on the internet is so important.

Because students now are growing up in a completely different technological climate than previous generations, teachers need to take the steps to both educate themselves and their students. Read on to learn how teachers can work to keep their students safe on the internet.

Why Is Internet Safety Important for Students

Using the internet is no longer up to preference. Modern day usage of the internet has become a staple across many technologically driven societies.

Students should be learning from a young age how to be safe on the internet. Ideally, before a student is able to put their hands on an internet capable device, they should have some basic idea of how to use it safely.

Without internet safety, students are at higher risk for common internet crime issues, including:

  • Cyberbullying
  • Viewing inappropriate content
  • Internet predators
  • Malware

As a teacher, the best way you can keep students safe on the internet is by ensuring they have the necessary knowledge to make informed decisions. Even when properly informed, precautionary measures taken to protect students when on the internet will not always be enough. Students should know that they can always speak to you, a parent, or another authority figure if they run into a problem.

Keeping Kids Safe on the Internet

Once a child enters school, they will spend an average of 13% of their time there until they graduate. The percentage is even greater when you consider only waking time, so there is a huge moral weight for teachers to keep their students safe during the day.

This includes keeping them safe on the internet. Students are no longer spending the majority of their research with noses tucked in books. They are spending hours on the internet under the direction of their teacher. The classroom provides the perfect setting for teaching students how to stay safe on the internet.

How Teachers Can Keep Students Safe on the Internet

There are plenty of ways that teachers can keep students safe on the internet, and this is likely an ongoing discussion in any teaching circles you are part of.

The good news is that most people are aware that this is a priority, so there are a variety of resources available for those looking for it. This includes teachers, administration, parents, and other caretakers.

Staying Up-to-date with Technology

The first step of keeping students safe on the internet is staying up to date with technological advancement. This can be difficult because most unsafe things will not appeal to or be marketed to you, so you need to actively watch for red flags.

You should also know that most apps exist in gray areas, so education is key. Popular social media apps like Snapchat and Instagram were not designed to be hidden traps for young minds, but danger will always be attracted to what is popular, especially when it is popular with children and teens.

Keep active in any groups that frequently visit the topic of student safety. Subscribe to any blogs or websites that are focused on alerting parents and teachers to technology that poses a threat to young people.

Involving Parents

Make sure that parents are a part of any internet safety measures you enact and communicate with them as you see necessary. While some may talk about how oversharing on the internet is bad, oversharing information with parents regarding internet safety is never a bad thing.

Make sure parents have a basic idea on how to keep their child’s information private and how they can create a safe online environment in their household. While school networks generally have safety features to protect students, parents or guardians may need guidance on how to adjust their privacy settings.

You should also work alongside parents regarding their student’s behavior. It can sometimes be difficult to key in on something like cyberbullying because there is little visual evidence of it. If you notice that a student is performing differently in school, some questions you can ask parents are:

  • Is your child spending less time online?
  • Has your child’s relationship with social media changed?

Parents are doing their best to guide their children through life. It is a group effort, so by highlighting your relationship with them you can come together to keep their child safe on the internet.

Creating an Effective Policy

While you cannot regulate how students use the internet at home, you can absolutely create a policy for school use. If your school does not have a district-wide policy, make sure you suggest they create one.

For a policy to be effective it should have these things:

  • Clear terms your students can understand
  • An explanation of how the internet will be used in the classroom
  • What students will need to avoid

You can always add onto this to fit the specific needs of your curriculum and make the policy well rounded. For example, if you are introducing the policy at the beginning of a research unit you may want to include suggestions for finding reputable resources.

Students and parents should both sign the policy to indicate that they have read and understand it, but you should not assume this means they will adhere to it. Accidents do happen, so setting up block lists to protect students from inappropriate content is essential to keeping them safe on the internet.

Teaching Instead of Telling

Blocking websites is a standard practice, but it is not guaranteed that students will be unable to access unsavory content while using the internet at school. Censoring inappropriate content is even more difficult when students are at home or using public internet sources.

The best way to keep students safe in any aspect of their life is by opening a line of communication. Students should know that you trust them enough to make educated decisions, so provide as much information as you can about internet safety as often as you can.

While internet safety may not be a part of your curriculum, it is worth revisiting it anytime classwork requires students to access the internet.

Opening a Line of Communication with Students

You will find that by communicating with students without judging them or talking down on them will be the most surefire way of keeping them safe on the internet. They will not only be more open to what you have to say about it, but they will also be more likely to come to you if something did happen to them on the internet.

Keeping an open line of communication may seem difficult, but it is mostly about meeting students where they are. It will not look the same for kindergarteners as it will for high school seniors, but the basics are the same.

  • Involve students when creating new guidelines
  • Start conversations about their relationship with technology
  • Do not judge students if they have acted unsafely

You will find that having conversations with your students will help you out as well. I can still remember when I was in high school and a bullying app had the entire student body by the throat by the time the first bell rang. It was feeling free to communicate with the administration that eliminated the threat, not any firewall or online policy.

Internet Safety Issues Relevant to Students

While there are plenty of safety issues regarding the internet and day-to-day life, you probably do not need to worry about every little thing. While a great portion of a youth’s life is focused on technology, they tend to deal with the same issues.

You do not need to get a degree in cybersecurity in order to know about the biggest online threats to your student. Simply identifying these issues and coming up with courses of action to combat them can be enough.

Cybercrime

The rise of the internet has brought about a decrease in physical crime. That seems like something to celebrate until you realize that this is because criminals have found the internet to be a more suitable environment for breaking the law.

Cybercrime is basically anything that involves a device and a network. It functions on tiers of hazard, ranging anywhere from minor system hacks to identity theft all the way to espionage.

While students may not need to worry about which countries are spying on each other, they should at least have a basic understanding of how they can prevent accidentally inviting one of these cyberattacks and how they can arm their devices against them.

Malware: A Silent Security Threat

While the cyberbullying and sexting both involve another individual, malware programs can silently seek out information without alerting the user to their presence.

Examples of malware include:

  • Viruses
  • Worms
  • Trojan Horses
  • Spyware

The easiest way to prevent accidentally inviting these malicious programs onto your device is to avoid downloading content that you do not have complete confidence in. This includes software from suspicious flashy websites, software with no reviews, and links and files from unknown or strange sources.

Using an antivirus program is like arming your device against harmful software. Antiviruses are designed to prevent you from downloading suspicious material, detect any that has made its way onto your device, and remove anything that can be harmful to personal security and device function.

Encourage both students and parents to utilize suitable antivirus software on their devices. Many parents should be happy to learn that many antivirus programs also include parental controls so they can keep a better handle on their child’s online activity.

Using “You Are Safe Online” to Educate Students

You Are Safe Online is a useful tool for parents and teachers alike. I have an excellent cybersecurity quiz that you can access here. It teaches students in a fun yet challenging way.

The questions on the quiz varied and relevant. One I was surprised to see was “What happened to cybercrime rates during the pandemic?” (Here is a free answer: cybercrime rates nearly tripled during the pandemic.)

This is a fantastic tool for not only quizzing students on their cybersecurity knowledge, but helping discover areas where you need to learn yourself. Take note of any that seem to stump both you and your students so you can go over them later.

Cyberbullying

One of the best things you can do for bullied students is let them know that they are not alone and that you will stand against their abuser. Give them definitions on what cyberbullying is so they can either identify attacks or look out for them in the future.

Some key examples of cyberbullying are:

  • Sending mean or malicious messages
  • Hacking someone’s account or device
  • Stealing identity or intellectual property
  • Posting abusive content about another person

Bullies should also know that teachers and parents are aware of their actions. Let students know that cyberbullying goes beyond microaggression, and in many cases it can actually be considered a cybercrime.

Combating Cyberbullying

While many cases of cyberbullying happen at home, you can take action against the threat in your own classroom. As already mentioned, simply talking about it can give students the ability to recognize abuse while discouraging cyberbullies.

Your school should also have an effective system for reporting cyberbullying that streamlines the involvement for all necessary parties, including parents, administration, both sides of the act, and the appropriate authorities (if necessary).

The initial internal reaction to being bullied online is to discredit it. Many students feel like they should not be bothered because it happens beyond a screen. Validating their resulting emotions can be key to repairing their confidence and ensuring that their self-preservation skills remain intact.

Sexting

If you deal with high schoolers (and maybe even middle schoolers) the topic of sexting needs to come up in any internet security conversations you have. Students should be aware of what sexting is and the laws that go along with it. Many states now have sexting laws that pertain to both senders and recipients.

Students should also understand that whether the other party is someone they know or a stranger, there are implications to any sexual images shared over the internet. Make sure to keep the conversation open and honest, and encourage parents to do the same.

What Teachers Can Do about Sexting

Beyond informing students about what sexting is and why it should be avoided, schools can use campaigns like the FBI’s Stop Sextortion campaign to provide resources regarding online sexual predators.

Every school should also have a formal policy and procedure for teachers to follow in the instance that they suspect sexting. In many cases, sexting meets the definition of child abuse and teachers are therefore required to report their suspicions.

Beyond this, teachers should maintain an open and judgement free attitude. Students who are the victim of online crime, especially anything that is sexual in nature, will be reluctant to reach out for help if they believe they will be judged for it.

Teaching Students Digital Citizenship

Acting online is similar to acting in person, but it does not come to us nearly as instinctually. Students should be  taught a set of skills that can allow them to think critically and make ethical choices while they are on the internet.

Students need to understand that things they do on the internet can affect many people, including:

  • Themselves
  • Their classmates
  • Their family
  • Their community

This means that their behavior should be a product of educated decisions when they are accessing any form of media. The easiest way to explain this is to take all the information they already know about behaving in the physical world and apply it to the internet.

How to Navigate the Internet Safely

While you can set up all the firewalls in the world, nothing beats a student who has been taught which website they can access and which websites to avoid. This is the difference between setting a fence that a child may one day learn to climb and teaching them why they should not cross that boundary.

Teach them how to identify websites that are either unsafe or inappropriate, and encourage them to come to you or another authority figure in the event that they access one of these websites.

Explain the importance of using valuable websites. If you are in a research unit, make sure you talk about the difference between domain names (e.g. “.com” or “.edu”). Students should also learn how hyperbolization, clickbait, and “too good to be true” promises are usually disguised for malware.

Make sure students know how to create secure passwords to keep their accounts safe. You can practice coming up with odd phrases or combinations if they are younger, maybe even making a game out of it. With older students encourage them to use completely random combinations and change passwords regularly.

Identifying Appropriate Interactions

First and foremost, students should feel reassured that they can trust their gut instinct anytime they are interacting on the internet. Let them know that just because the person on the other side of the interaction is not in front of them does not mean that they are any less harmless.

Predators tend to utilize the same tactics when searching their victims, so educating your students on these can help alert them to unsafe situations. Some key indicators of inappropriate interactions you can warn your students about are:

  • Strangers contacting you out of the blue
  • People who tell you to keep them a secret
  • Suspicious email or social media accounts
  • Someone who claims to know you, but you are not sure you know them

Do not think that young children are beyond the reach of cybercriminals, either. If there is anything online schooling taught parents in 2020, it was that more time online increases the occurrence of cybercrime, regardless of age. Make sure that parents are aware of this threat.

Explaining Digital Footprint

Students need to be aware of the implications of what they post. The fact is that nearly everything posted online can be traced, but there are key ways to reduce the amount of information you provide online.

Encourage your students to err on the side of caution when posting on the internet. A good tool to give them is to think about whether something would be better suited to a one-on-one conversation than a social media post. Telling a friend that you are at the coffee shop might be a great topic, but telling the world where you are is not safe.

Transparency is key. Students should be aware that hackers can access their location through the images that they post on social media, so undersharing is key when it comes to internet safety.

Beyond this, explain that everything they post on the internet is capable of still existing long after they delete it. If they do not want something to exist forever, it is best to not post it at all. Something that had five minutes of time on their feed can influence their future.

Modelling Digital Citizenship

One of the best ways to get this point across to students is to model digital citizenship yourself. If you are comfortable, access your own social media accounts to show students how to properly set up an account and adjust any privacy settings.

If you are not comfortable sharing personal accounts, you can also utilize simulation tools to walk students through the process and proper citizenship. Social Media Test Drive runs students through lessons to teach them about digital citizenship and simulations to let them safely test out their knowledge.

Teaching Students Netiquette

Another key part of keeping students safe online is teaching them proper “netiquette”. While this appears to be the same as digital citizenship, netiquette refers more to guidelines for communication.

Netiquette is an important part of internet safety. When students know how they should behave on the internet, they also know what kind of behavior they should avoid. This can help them filter through interaction.

Proper netiquette also protects children who are not your students. The more your students behave, refraining from improper and harmful behavior, the fewer others are affected and the safer everyone is.

There Is Someone on the Other Side of the Screen

People in general are quick to forget that though they are dealing with digital matter, there is at least one other real live human being involved in their interactions.

No one should behave on the internet in a way that they would not in a face-to-face interaction, and this goes both ways.

A student should remember to give away information freely on the internet. Would they give this information to a masked stranger on the street? They have no way of knowing what the other party will do with the information, and a suspicious anonymous setting is not a recipe for a do-gooder.

Students should also remember that their actions have real consequences, and statements that are inappropriate, profane, or just plain mean have the same effect regardless of whether they are spoken out loud or typed.

Respect on the Internet

As your students spend more time on the internet, they will encounter both respectful and disrespectful behavior. By educating them on these things you can limit the possibility that they decide to act poorly behind a screen.

While a student may know plenty about not wasting someone’s time in a face-to-face interaction, they may be unaware of the fact that spamming or posting content irrelevant to a page is a waste of both time and bandwidth, and that not everyone has unlimited access to the internet. Anything they post should pertain to the site and conversation.

Teach them about behaviors like trolling and flaming, which are common practices on online platforms. Students are likely to see plenty of discourse that involves heated conversation or abusive language, and the more they are exposed to it the more they will think it is okay. By giving it a name, you give them a clear example of how not to act.

Students should also respect privacy on the internet and not use it as a tool to uncover hidden information about others. This is a key point that should especially be highlighted if you are teaching a course in computer science or security.

While it is easy to lose track of a creator's rights to their piece, students should work under the assumption that all work needs to be attributed. While failing an assignment because of plagiarism is a real world effect of violating content rights, students should also be aware of the legal ramifications of violating copyright laws.

Spend some time explaining both the legal and moral reasons that your students should respect the original creator of an online piece. Stealing anything is illegal, but stealing something and trying to pass it off as your own is downright disrespectful.

Teach them how to properly attribute and cite work, and encourage them to either obtain permission to use images or use images that are already free to use. Remind students that the internet needs to be a safe space for everyone, including creators.

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