Why Online Safeguarding Means More Than Simple Web Filtering

December 23, 2016
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Safeguarding Your Kid On The Internet

Today, nearly half of the entire world population is connected to the internet. With over four billion of us living and working online, internet security has become an issue of great importance. But, although many schools take the time to download and install the latest web filtering systems, by themselves, these aren’t enough to keep children safe.

While these restrictive measures help limit unwanted exposure, they aren’t a sufficient safeguard. Digital citizenship should be a vital part of online safety training for all education staff. Understanding how and why children might be exposed to unsavoury material is the top priority.

Safeguarding in a Connected Society

Nowadays, children can access the internet as easily as unlocking a phone. The average age for a child to receive a smartphone is now ten years old. At this point, they are still incredibly impressionable. Parents are under constant pressure to provide their children with the latest gadgets and often struggle to enforce regular guidelines. At school, there is more emphasis on adult control, but not every cyber-threat can be kept behind a veil.

While age-inappropriate content, such as adult entertainment and gambling sites, can be hidden from view, it’s impossible to avert all dangers with the introduction of software. The term ‘digital footprint’ is becoming increasingly common, referring to the paper trail we leave behind when we access the internet’s myriad of web pages. What personal information are we offering the online community? How are we presenting ourselves and others on the web? If we don’t know the answers to these questions ourselves, how can we expect children to handle them?

Online safety training covers more than just the basics. It looks in depth at reputation management, online privacy and the ethics involved in internet use. While the web is a fantastic resource for learning, it’s also a catalogue of everything we choose to divulge about ourselves.

Teaching Children about Digital Citizenship

There are several aspects of internet use that online safety training can shed some serious light on:

  • Reputation management
  • Online privacy
  • Online security
  • Ethical decisions
  • Information and media literacy

All of these subjects are equally important to conscientious internet use and should become an intrinsic part of digital learning. Let’s go through each of them in more detail, in order to understand how they contribute to the idea of digital citizenship.

Reputation management is the process of understanding our digital footprint. A Social Age study found that 43% of children had messaged a stranger on social media by the age of twelve. What they reveal about themselves is down to the individual situation, but the fact that children are doing so unregulated is worrying. Do they know the impact of sharing personal information on Facebook or Instagram? What about the information they share about their friends and family?

Online privacy is a concern for almost all internet users. Children need to understand the importance of reading terms and conditions and privacy policies, in order to remain in control of their personal details. Online safety training can help teachers explain how companies use the information we give up so freely.

Online security involves more than just antivirus software. Children who don’t know how to create strong passwords or recognise suspicious emails will remain susceptible to fraud. With the power of the internet at their fingertips, it’s all too easy for them to enter details without thinking.

Ethical decisions aren’t always considered when we write posts or post photos on social media. Cyberbullying and online abuse are all too common on these sites and influence the way children think about the world. Online safety training allows teachers to tackle these issues with frank, open discussion, as well as handling topics such as illegal downloads and plagiarism.

Information and media literacy refers to the recognition of fake or non-credible websites and the concepts of copyright and public domain. A number of fake news stories and scams circulate the internet and children need to be able to distinguish between genuine and disreputable sources. Online safety training can also help teachers broaden their understanding of potential copyright and Creative Commons infringements, so they can pass on their learning to their students.

Of course, there’s only so far we can go with restriction. Eventually, children will gain access to an internet beyond parental control and we need to prepare them for that experience. Online safety training is crucial to helping children navigate the digital world. As we move into an increasingly connected future, teaching digital citizenship must become a mainstay in our classrooms.

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