How To Teach Internet Safety For Students

Internet safety is an essential part of digital literacy. But teaching it to students? That’s not always easy.

In this guide, we’ll explore the importance of cyber safety and what your school district can do to help students learn the basics of staying safe online.

Understanding online safety

Creating an effective lesson plan isn’t possible without a firm understanding of what internet safety is and why it’s essential. So, to bring you up to speed, let’s review the basics:

What is internet safety?

Internet safety — also known as online safety, digital safety, or cyber safety — is a catch-all term for the policies, procedures, and precautions people use to mitigate online risks.

More simply, it refers to the process of staying safe online by avoiding anything that could jeopardize your physical, emotional, and financial well-being. Recognizing online threats is half the battle, but knowing what to do after the fact is also essential.

Why is internet safety important?

At its core, online safety is a hallmark of digital citizenship. In short, a digital citizen is any person who takes responsibility for their online activity and actively avoids risky behavior.

According to Common Sense Education, younger children must learn digital citizenship skills to fully participate in their communities and make smart decisions online and in real life. For example, media literacy, cybersecurity, and communication best practices can prepare kids with all the tools they need to succeed in the 21st century while still staying safe online.

Keep in mind internet access is practically a requirement in today’s digital-first school system. Between cloud apps and social media, today’s K-12 students are more online than ever before. In fact, the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) recently shared a report about how kids use social networking sites.

The conclusion? Technology isn’t just part of a student’s life — it is their life. Per the study:

  • About 75% of students say social media is their most popular way of reading news.
  • 65% of 10th-grade students say their social media profile genuinely reflects their identity.
  • The majority of students in grades 3-12 say social networking helps them develop relationships, make a positive community impact, and explore hobbies and interests.

In other words, cyber safety is as relevant as ever. Without adequate digital literacy, students could fall victim to any number of online threats, including:

  • Inappropriate content
  • Identity theft
  • Malicious software (i.e., malware)
  • Cyberbullying and harassment
  • Online predators
  • Sexual exploitation

The variety of possible outcomes ranges from relatively minor to downright devastating. But, no matter which online risks are the most common, all of them can and should be avoided. In a nutshell, that’s why school districts have to take the initiative and lead from the front. With a well-crafted lesson plan, you can teach every child how to steer clear of online threats well into adulthood.

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Tips for teaching internet safety to students

The worlds of cybersecurity and cyber safety are vast. Deciding exactly what your students need to know can be tough — but fortunately, we’re here to help.

Here’s a list of internet safety tips, talking points, and best practices. Keep these in mind when designing a lesson plan for teaching students the importance of digital safety.

1. Beware of suspicious links and attachments

The better students can recognize suspicious online activity, the better chance they have of turning in the other direction.

Ensure your students — including the younger children — understand the tell-tale signs of danger. For example, phishing attacks are notorious scams that trick unsuspecting users into sharing personal information, login credentials, and other types of data. Scammers often masquerade as a trusted adult (such as a parent, teacher, or staff member) and try to contact the child through email, social media, or text messages.

These communications often contain a sense of urgency and ask kids to click on links or download attachments, secretly infecting their system with malware. Make sure students know not to engage and to delete these messages immediately.

2. Require strong password hygiene

According to a 2021 study, K-12 password strength increases with age. A young person with less digital literacy training is more likely to have weak password security, whereas older students use more sophisticated combinations.

The problem? Many students reuse credentials for multiple accounts. If a hacker cracks one, they could compromise the others. Even worse, younger children often share passwords with friends, believing it to be harmless behavior.

Ensure students know the basics of strong password hygiene. Require they use a combination of letters, numbers, and characters and that their passwords do not contain any personal information.

3. Emphasize the dangers of online predators

A 2019 study by the Center for Cyber Safety and Education found that 40% of kids in grades 4-8 connected or chatted with a stranger over the internet. In other words, 2 in 5 students could be actively communicating with an online predator.

This is an obvious risk to child safety. Predators frequently use chatrooms, social networking, and online game sites to target kids. Sometimes, they extort kids into sharing sexual images or meeting in real life. Teach students — especially younger children — to never trust anyone they’ve only ever met online and to talk to a trusted adult if someone attempts to meet them in person.

For more information, visit NetSmartz — an education program founded by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

[FREE WEBINAR] Student Security, Safety & CIPA Compliance in the Browser With Content Filter by ManagedMethods >> REGISTER HERE!

4. Practice safe online communication

Knowing how to responsibly communicate without exposing yourself to online risks is key to digital citizenship. As part of your media literacy training, ensure students learn that what they post online could be used against them. For instance, posting personal information on social media may help hackers guess weak passwords.

“Sexting” is another big issue. There are many instances where private photos and messages are made public — which, in the case of K-12, may also be considered child pornography. Ideally, your school district should inform students of these risks and why they should never assume everything is confidential, even when sent to someone you trust.

5. Take advantage of your available resources

Luckily, you don’t have to start your lesson plan from scratch. If you’re short on inspiration, try one of the following resources:

Block online risks with Content Filter by ManagedMethods

How do you know students are practicing what you preach? How do you tell the difference between a child who made a mistake and one whose behavior is a recurring problem?

That’s where it pays to have Content Filter by ManagedMethods. More than just a web filtering tool, it can help you understand when students are making one-time errors or if there’s an underlying pattern to their behavior. With a record of historical data, you can further educate your students accordingly and enforce your safe browsing policies more effectively.

Of course, Content Filter also blocks online threats, too. Using artificial intelligence and thousands of pre-built blocklists, it prevents students from accessing inappropriate content, malicious websites, and other cyber risks. Think of it as a first line of defense that keeps your district safe from danger of all shapes and sizes.

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