Photo by Leonard John Matthews via Flickr
There is a lot of discussion about who should teach kids how to stay safe online. Why do we care? Because kids are going online in huge numbers, and while online they encounter bullying, scams, and sexual predators.
Kids should receive online safety education at home, at school, and from the vendors that provide internet products and services.
Online safety education at home
Computer use is fundamental to our society at this point. From the time our kids are infants, their images are posted online. Kids today communicate with their family online through social networks and gaming, they check for homework assignments and movie times, and they shop.
What this means for families is that ‘social norms’ discussions need to cover online behavior. Discussions on modesty need to cover skirt length and what images get shared digitally via post or message. For families, online behavior needs to be modeled as well as described and enforced, and modeling responsible online behavior is not always easy. Discuss with your kids what choices you make online and why you make them. (More can be found on modeling online behavior here.)
Online safety education at school
In New Berlin, Wisconsin, a school superintendent made a determined effort to bring technology to one of his high schools through a mobile learning initiative program that would have provided powerful, portable computing devices to all of the students. At the same time, at that same school, one of the students was tricking and coercing other students into providing sexual images via Facebook and in-person encounters. At least 31 students succumbed to the trickery and threats, and none of them reported. What that tells me is that the school was not ready to provide or mandate technology for its students.
Schools need clear social networking policies regarding official district, school, class, and club social networking pages, and they need to teach expected use of those sites. They also need to teach kids to use the internet safely for class purposes, which includes appropriate behavior and how to report inappropriate behavior and crime.
Perhaps most importantly, schools need to teach kids the fundamentals of how networks share data. This subject is too technical for most parents to teach and too important to treat as ‘elective’ education. Every day, millions of people send out sensitive personally-identifiable information, and they place all of their trust in security policies, services, and products in the hopes or assumption that the information is transmitted appropriately. In order to handle such transactions intelligently, people need to know what, exactly, is happening with their data, and what they can and should check to make sure it happens properly.
Online safety from vendors
Digital cameras, cell phones, Facebook, and many other products, services, and applications all have safety issues. They can all share personal information, they can all be used inappropriately, and they operate on a level that is much more technical than the average person understands easily.
As consumers, we should ask for specific educational tools from vendors, such as ‘first use’ notices. An example of a good ‘first use’ notice would be when you upload a photo to a social networking site for the first time: the site should walk you through the options on how to control who sees that photo and provide a caution of what constitutes an inappropriate image to upload.
The internet is vast and immensely complex. As such, teaching internet safety is more than we can expect from any one group. However, responsible families, schools, and companies can work together and teach kids to make educated decisions and stay safe online.
Bethan Tuttle, CIPP, is mom to two and Executive Director of CommunityWatch, a non-profit that provides empowering crime-prevention education for kids, families, and communities. Learn more at CommunityWatch.us and follow @ComWatch on Twitter for empowering crime prevention updates.
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