In schools across the country, web filtering is used as the frontline of online safeguarding. While this can limit the level of inappropriate content children access, it doesn’t teach them anything about the way the internet works. One in three children now own some form of tablet or smartphone. This number is only set to increase, so online safety training must offer greater safeguarding against digital threats.
Children today are categorised as digital natives. They have all grown up in a world dominated by technology and surfing the web is second nature. Undoubtedly, this gives them an advantage over less tech-savvy generations. But, it also comes with an increased risk. Internet safety is no longer just a process of restriction. It should also be an opportunity to teach children about the importance of digital citizenship.
Online Safeguarding: Learning to Thrive in an Online Community
Half the world will be connected to mobile internet by 2020. While such a large communal network comes with many benefits, it also increases the risk to uneducated users. In order for children to use the web’s abundant resources safely, online safety training must help them identify the potential dangers. Just blocking adult material is no longer an adequate solution. Children must be taught to identify real-life threats for themselves.
Social media has changed the way we present ourselves and communicate with others. Three-quarters of 10-12 year olds have access to a social media account. Although the use of these accounts is prohibited at school, educators have no authority over their use at home. But, an educational environment is still the best place for children to learn about the misuse of sites such as Facebook and Instagram.
Our digital footprint reveals a lot about both our online activity and our personal lives. If we aren’t tagging our friends in images, then we are more than likely being tagged ourselves. It’s virtually impossible to disconnect from this level of consistent exposure. This leaves children vulnerable to cyberbullying and grooming. Teachers who commit to online safety training can help students understand how and why these issues occur.
Online Safeguarding: Leaving Behind a Positive Impression
As digital citizens, it’s our duty to implement the same societal expectation online as we do in the real world. Although the internet is a platform for free speech, discriminatory and deceitful claims should still be treated with reproach. If we can’t take this approach as adults, how can we expect children to follow suit? Students need to be taught the impact of their digital footprint from an early age.
But what exactly does our digital footprint cover? Online safety training highlights all the aspects of online behaviour that many of us overlook:
- How technology is changing the world we live in
- The way children present themselves online
- The ethical side of online communication
- Issues with online privacy and security
Web filtering cannot prompt a frank, open discussion on these subjects. In order to prepare children for a life online, digital citizenship needs to become the main focus of internet safety lessons. For example, reputation management and information literacy are rarely covered in traditional teaching. But, learning how to conduct yourself on social media and the principles of identifying disreputable news sources are crucial to children’s digital development.
As educators, it can often be easy to underestimate a child’s vulnerability. Despite growing up in a digital age, children still need guidance. 43% of them have messaged a stranger online and 28% have made in-game purchases on apps. Why? Because there aren’t enough online safeguarding measures in place to prevent them. It’s not a question of restricting children’s freedom; it’s about preparing them for the challenges they may face online.
In the short term, web filters do their job. Elicit material is kept at arm’s length and children browse the web oblivious to it. However, once they begin to experiment with social media and messaging services, things change. As educators, we are the frontline of child protection. With online connections becoming far more accessible, it is our duty to raise children that will become informed and intuitive digital citizens.