“Literacy Not Fear” : Promoting Internet Safety

Internet safety can be an alarming topic for parents, especially when their kids have a better understanding of technology than they do. While today’s technology may be second nature to younger students (it’s been around since before many of them were born), the common sense that comes with life experience is not second nature. They don’t necessarily have the experience, maturity, or presence of mind to know what is appropriate and what is not, especially in online settings where things can feel safer, and more anonymous, than they actually are.

Moving Past Fear Tactics

Earlier this month, the Online Safety Technology Working Group gave a report to congress called Youth Safety on a Living Internet that stressed the importance of educating kids on internet safety, not just scaring them about it. (You can read more about the report and its recommendations here.)

As providers of educational and public service themed folders to students in all grades, we find ourselves right in the middle of this opportunity to educate students. After all, since they’ve been raised with the internet, they don’t perceive it as a threat; it’s as natural to them as the telephone has been to us all for decades. In fact, trying to deter them with fear alone may just make them feel more web-savvy and make parents and teachers appear to be out of touch.

But we’re not out of touch. We know that the person on the other side of that message board may not be who they claim to be. So rather than just saying “no,” we need to educate kids on where the safety line is, and what to do if they feel that it’s been crossed, even a little.

Teaching Internet Safety: Establish Consistent Guidelines

Kids respond very well to structure; they need to have clear expectations that are easy to understand and follow. Internet safety guidelines should address a number of different things:

  1. How to behave:

    We need to teach students what information is appropriate to share and what is not.

  2. Where to go:

    Especially for adolescents and younger kids, parents should know where their kids are going online. Set boundaries for where your kids are allowed to visit, and don’t be afraid to check in to make sure they’re following those rules.

  3. Warning signs:

    Keep a list of things that are not okay for someone else to do, and teach your child that it’s always okay to come forward and tell you about it, even if they think you’ll be mad.

  4. Follow your gut:

    Using a little bit of scare tactic isn’t out of the question: make it clear that some of the people online may be dangerous, and tell your child that it’s okay to follow their gut. If something seems out of the ordinary, it probably is.

Reinforcing these things at home, in the classroom, and through materials like internet safety student folders, helps students learn and understand what is appropriate and what is not appropriate online.

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