Learning Internet Safety (Guest Post)

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As educators, we understand the inherent issues and the dangers of poor internet safety understanding.  This is especially the case in adolescents.  For many, the bombardment of images and themes via the internet can bring about many social, emotional and psychological pressures… sexual confusion through exposire to explicit material being just one.  We, as adults, are aware of the dangers of providing personal details online but, due to poor decision making during this time of brain reorganisation and development, young people will easily ignore such boundaries.  I think most will also agree that the internet can give a skewed understanding of the world. But there is another side the the coin.  The internet is powerful and informative and connective and… here to stay.

It is my privilege, today, to host another blog post from Albert Roberts. Read on as he explores…

 

 At What Age Should Children Learn About Internet Safety?

The birth of the world wide web has become one of the most significant developments in history. It informs almost everything that we do as people – we use it for leisure, work, learning and play. As all reasonably rational teachers, parents and guardians know, it can be both an invaluable tool and a potential danger. We will never effectively tackle the dangers that lurk on the internet, if we cannot first come to terms with this dichotomous truth. What we can do is educate and inform children in our care about the dangers of the internet. We must do this from an early age, and we must do it without tricks or lies.

It is hard to teach children about internet safety, because we can’t always protect ourselves from its conmen, trolls and predators. If a fully functioning adult can be targeted by the darker forces on the web, how can we possibly keep the most vulnerable members of society safe from them? The key is to come to terms with the fact that our control of the internet is limited. There are bad things out there, but we can’t influence or stop the vast majority of them – not on our own.

There are countless stories of parents forbidding their children from using the internet at home, only to later find out that they’re accessing dangerous material or talking to dangerous people in secret. There is safety in honesty, there is security in being open with children. Nevertheless, it can be tricky to work out when a child is old enough to start learning about safety internet. This is due to the fact that there’s no real consensus for when a child is old enough to start using the internet.

If we can all agree that it’s best to leave the free use of the internet to the discretion of parents, it is safe to assume that an awareness of internet safety should begin as soon as your child is given leave to browse the web. Whilst a child is below twelve years of age, it is best to use the internet together. When your child begins to approach adolescence, you can begin to touch upon some of the more serious risks involved with independently surfing and using the internet. You should never try to frighten your child into behaving appropriately online, because this will only increase their confusion.

For children under 12 it’s important to establish simple and easy to understand “golden” rules:

  • Never Share Names, Schools, Ages, Phone Numbers, or Addresses
  • Never Open An Email From A Stranger – It May Contain Viruses That Can Harm A Computer
  • Never Send Pictures To Strangers Or View Pictures That Strangers Send To Them
  • Keep Passwords Private (Except to Parents)
  • Tell A Trusted Adult if Something Mean or Creepy Happens On The Internet

Children are inherently curious things – even more so when they reach adolescence. It can often seem like the act of forbidding a certain action can have the opposite effect. If you forbid a certain action without fully explaining why, that teenage need to rebel will only become more of a problem – the internet can be too dangerous a place to take that risk. A large part of tackling this issue is confronting the fact that teen’s might be actively trying to search for mature content online. Whilst it is true that sanctions can sometimes be useful, discretion must be used here. Teen’s have to deal with a rapidly changing brain and they need support, even if it isn’t always palpable.

It does not make a child abnormal or even badly behaved, it just means that they’re exploring the limits of their own sexuality. In order to stay safe, they simply have to know that not everybody tells the truth online. They must fully understand that even if they feel like they can trust an online friend, there is no guarantee that that online friend is telling the truth. Don’t be afraid to discuss this dilemma frankly with teens – be careful not to patronise, but do explain that adolescent brains sometimes find it harder to deal with making clear and rational decisions.

It is natural for adolescents to be curious about the darker side of the internet and at this age, 24 hour supervision isn’t possible, and never healthy. This is precisely why early reinforcement is so vital – if you give children the right information and tools, they will apply it on their own behalf. Don’t simply tell them not to share personal information, agree to meet strangers or share photographs via the internet. You need to first identify the reasons why an adolescent might want to do these things – bearing in mind we most often won’t particularly like the answers.

The difference between teaching and telling is a very fine one – teaching a child about internet safety rather than just tell them how important it is. Children won’t have any frame of reference to help them understand exactly why they need to be careful online, so there’s no point trying to have discussions about chat rooms or sexual predators at a very early age. It is much more effective to teach them the basic internet safety rules as if they are an immutable fact of life. If you teach a child these things early enough, they will become an accepted part of life.

 

Albert Roberts has been a secondary school teacher for eleven years. He recommends checking out the services from School Explained as they are great for improving the relationship between teachers, parents and students alike.  Albert can be found online blogging about how to engage challenging students and how to improve parent teacher relationships.
 

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