Internet safety lessons are an important part of any child’s education. Just as parents teach their children to look before crossing the street, be careful around fire, and to not talk to strangers, these lessons provide children with useful tools that will help to keep them safe. Internet safety lessons can and should occur both at home and in school.
The Internet, while a great tool for learning and entertainment, can also be dangerous. Sexual predators, identity theft, and cyber bullying can be devastating and even fatal. The most important aspect of an Internet safety lesson, regardless of the child’s age, is to make sure they understand that there are dangerous people online and that they must never divulge personal information.
Technology is playing an ever greater role in out culture and children are spending more time online than ever before. Easy access to the Internet through game consoles, smart phones, and computers makes Internet safety critical. Creating an effective Internet safety lesson for children requires, as with any teaching activity, that the age and maturity of the child is taken into account.
Preschool-aged children should never be allowed online without adult supervision. There are many useful and entertaining educational games online that can help preschoolers learn shapes, numbers, letters, good manners, and more, but these children do not have the ability to discern between safe and unsafe online behavior. There are websites geared toward teaching Internet safety to preschool-aged children that present the material in a way the child will understand while adding to their computer usage skills. Another Internet safety lesson at home is to create and teach some basic ground rules:
• Stay on the page
• Do not enter personal information
• Do not open emails from strangers
• Do not share pictures online
• Keep passwords in the family
• Ask a parent for help when needed or when something seems wrong or creepy
• Do not click on any ads
Primary school-aged children
As children become older, they are more likely to feel invincible and better able to decide for themselves what is safe, whether it is true or not. In addition to the basic rules above, these children need a more in depth Internet safety lesson as they expand their Internet usage to include social networking, getting homework help, and information searches. Role-playing what-if situations with the child is an excellent way to teach basic Internet safety at this age.
Sitting at the computer with an adult, children can demonstrate what they know about Internet safety, pointing out potential dangers to the adult. Since children love to show what they know, this provides parents and teachers with an opportunity to see what still needs to be taught. If a small group of children are working together, they can be challenged to see how many potential dangers they can spot.
The first step in creating an effective Internet safety lesson for teens is to talk with them about their Internet usage. Find out about the sites they use, what they like to do online, and then explain potential risks and how to avoid them. Teens are at the greatest risk of cyber bullying and identity theft. Parents and teachers can provide teens with a Cyber Bullying Tip Sheet that introduces the risks and explains how to handle cyber bullying. The National Crime Prevention Association also provides podcasts to help educate teens about protecting themselves online.
Effective Internet safety lessons for children must help children understand that there are thieves, crazies, and worse online. At the same time, parents and teachers do not want to introduce more than the child can handle or to create fear. Internet safety lessons are about empowering a young Internet user to be smart, safe, and sensible.