Teaching Internet Safety: It Takes A Village

There’s a quiet debate taking place in the hallways of schools across the country – no – around the world. Who is responsible for teaching kids about Internet Safety?

I’ve travelled to hundreds of schools around North America and I’ve had this conversation regularly with school administrators, counselors, parents and even students. It would seem the problem is that, on all fronts, people feel they don’t have enough information or education about what it means to be safe in the online world.

As a result parents are looking to the educators, educators are looking to the parents and our student are stuck in limbo trying to navigate between the digital world and the real one.

When I first started talking to people about internet safety six years ago, I would have gladly put the responsibility of internet safety squarely on the shoulders of the parents. In reality, parents are the ones providing their kids with the mobile technology that is getting them into so much trouble. But there has been a shift over the last few years as more and more schools are moving to a 1:2:1 environment where they are providing the students with the technology.

ID-100189110So who is responsible for teaching internet safety and digital citizenship to our kids? We all are.

I’m not one for clichés but in this situation it fits. I turn to the oft quoted African proverb: “It takes a village to raise a child.”

In a recent survey conducted by internet security company AVG is was reported that parents rely too much on schools to teach their kids about internet safety according to 82% of teachers interviewed. The research brings to light the argument of who is responsible for the education of our kids when it comes to the digital world. Many teachers surveyed feel that the pressure comes from parents who don’t know enough about the online world to educate their kids.

This is an argument that needs to stop.

Rather than passing the buck I think it’s important to start working together on this topic and sometimes it helps to reach outside the box for help.

I look at education and policy like the circus act of the spinning plates. The perform sets up his first plate and gets it going. Then on to the second, the third, the fourth and onward. You get everything going and it looks great. To keep things going you have to go back to the beginning and keep that first plate from falling. You can’t just set things up and rely on them to take care of themselves- you need to keep it going.

Get the Conversation Started

It’s in the beginning that I recommend the outside help. Bring in specialists to work with each level of the conversation.

Educators

For educators I recommend taking a part of an in-service day to get the conversation going. Work with your outside presenter to come up with the best lesson for your educators. For me, I work closely with schools to customize each program to fit the conversation already taking place. I want to make sure everyone has the appropriate tools to great the best digital citizens possible. I’ve even stopped running my “scripted” program to have full-blown candid conversations about the topic. By working together to have this conversations with one another, we are developing the tools to bring these lessons to students.

Students

The outsider is the perfect conversation starter for students. If I had a dollar for every time I have heard the following from an BkPkF-LIgAELD-1educator I’d be a rich man. It’s simply this: “we tell our students these same things all the time and we never get through. You did it in an hour.” The next thing from them is usually asking me what my secret is. The truth is, there’s no secret. I’m just an outsider.

It’s important to use workshops and assemblies as a preventive measure rather than a reactionary one. Setting the stage early is key. Once the lessons have been taught, students are more likely to take a few moments to think before they act in the online world. They might take the time to type out that hateful message, but they’re also going to think twice about posting or sending and in most cases it’ll get deleted before the act.

One students, after hearing my assembly program, started a campaign in his school entitled “What would Josh do?” Using the lessons learned from the assembly, he created posters that were then hung around school depicting different scenarios often found in the online world (sexting, bullying, etc) and simply wrote “What would Josh do?” on the bottom. He also included my Twitter handle and e-mail address, giving his fellow students the reminder that I am always available to answer questions.

It was a brilliant idea that sparked a movement for his classmates. I spent a lot of time responding to their questions via social networking and that’s something I’ll never have an issue with. It tells me they’re thinking about what we discussed.

Parents

Get the parents involved as soon as possible. I love parent nights. Over the last six years I have conducted well over 100 even programs talking to parents about the online world. These are essential in bringing the conversations into the home environment.

What I always recommend is booking both students and parent nights back to back.  The reason being that I use a lot of the same material presented to the students in an effort to facilitate the at home conversation. Simply saying to your child, “Josh talked to us about this- what did he tell you?” and from there having a thoughtful conversation. I also given parents additional information and tools not presented to the students in order to give them what they need to bring more light to a topic. I won’t always be around, but you will.

Keep the Conversations Going

You’ve got the plates spinning and now it’s time to keep them in the air. Don’t just look at this as a one and done conversation. It needs to happen early and it needs to happen often.

For educators, take some time during each in-service day to discuss the online world. Keep tabs on news stories from around the world. Use current events to talk to students about what is happening to people their age. In the last year along I posted stories about how sexting is getting many teenagers into trouble, how apps like YikYak are landing students in jail and how one tweet can change your entire life.

I’m, of course, going to recommend following my blog and tweets to keep up with the current events (because I can) but just watching the news each morning will give you what you need. Honestly, if I hadn’t been watching the news at the gym, I would have never known about the eraser challenge.

Blogging is key. I recommend that the school take a look at blogging platforms (I offer my recommendations in last year’s Social Networking in the Classroom series) and use them. Get your principals, school counselors, resource officers and teachers blogging. Get your parents following those blog posts and tweets.

As you hear about a news item, write about it! Or share what has been written about it. Keep those conversations going and keep everyone in the know. Even if it’s not happening in your school, your district or even your state- it’s important to keep tabs on the world. We are incredibly connected today and so are out students. They have access to a wealth of information, articles and videos- you should be just as connected.

Don’t Be Afraid to Bring it Up

Last year I visited a school district right around the time that YikYak was causing problems in schools. In a candid conversation with the principal prior to the start of the assemblies I mentioned the app and the issues coming up around it. He point-blank asked me not to mention it to his students at all since it hadn’t become an issue in the school. His reasoning- if we don’t talk about it, they won’t know about it.

Not the case at all.

As we are hearing news stories, so are students. Just because they aren’t talking about it doesn’t mean they aren’t using it.

By bringing the conversation to the table as educators and parents, we are telling our kids that we are aware and on the lookout for these issues. This is enough to make them think twice when they find themselves in a situation.

Get the Students Involved

Remember that campaign I talked about earlier? What would Josh do? A student came up with that. It’s funny, it’s relevant and it’s hilarious (not to mention flattering).  Some of the best experiences I’ve had as a speaker have come from events where the students were heavily involved.

Give them an opportunity to impress you.

One district in Indiana hired me to come in not because the school wanted it, because the students did. With the help and sponsorship of local businesses, student created  their own digital citizenship week. They had poster and video contests, pep rallies, assemblies, t-shirts. They went all out. The students did the leg work with the support of their local community, their parents and their administrators.

Get your student body involved in the conversation because, at the end of the day, this is their world.

Keep Those Plates Spinning

It’s important to have this conversation with everyone as early as possible. Start the school year off on a positive note and keep that song going. Get students excited about the idea and find ways to keep them energized and engaged.

Keep your educator blogs going with current events and bring those conversations into the classroom.  If, as an educator, you use current events as a part of your curriculum keep an eye out for news stories involving the digital world. Use them to facilitate thoughtful conversations with students. Ask them if they think how people are being punished is fair. Ask them what they would have done in that situation.

Share these stories with parents and fellow educators in your own social media feeds (yes, I encourage you to join twitter and use it often!).

Bring your specialist back! I work with many schools that bring back regularly, if not every year it’s every other. It’s a chance for students to see a familiar face and hear a familiar (always updated) message. It’s a great refresher and reenergizer for all.

I had no intention of this entry being so long when I started writing it! This is just a stepping stone to what it takes to get things going. I would love to hear thoughts and feedback from others about what they feel about this topic and how we can work together to get things going in our communities!

Josh Gunderson is an award-winning Bullying Prevention and Social Media Specialist. Josh has appeared on MTV, Comedy and National Geographic. For more information about Josh and his educational programs please visit www.HaveYouMetJosh.com

You can purchase Josh’s book “Cyberbullying: Perpetrators, Bystanders & Victims” on Amazon! Available in paperback or for Kindle.

Image of Young Mother And Daughter Looking At Laptop courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One thought on “Teaching Internet Safety: It Takes A Village

  1. Pingback: Twitter Polls Become Cyberbullying Tool | Breaking Down Digital Walls

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