In a world where children are exposed to the Internet at a young age, cybersecurity begins at home, but that does not excuse teachers from reinforcing the message.
1- Safe devices for safer people
The first lesson students must learn is how to protect your device from attacks. This includes equipping it with antivirus software, choosing strong passwords and changing them frequently, not downloading any material that looks suspicious, and learning not to be fooled by pop-ups and other false advertising. On school-issued devices, this is a joint effort between students, who have the responsibility to behave appropriately, and adults, who are tasked with choosing the best protective software for the school’s needs and budget.
2- Research done right
A prime occasion to discuss Internet safety is the use of the Web for research projects. When students use the wealth of information available on the Internet for learning purposes, teachers would do well to remind them that not everything you see on the Internet is true and it takes skill to cobble together material from different sources without being deceived by incorrect or deliberately false information or plagiarizing.
Discussing how to recognize a good source of information, how to cite sources and how to avoid copyright infringement is essential, especially if your students intend to move on to higher education or to make a living publishing content on the Internet.
3- New kinds of bullying—and how to prevent them
The feeling of anonymity can play tricks on a user’s mind. Hiding behind a username, we sometimes say and do things we would never do in person.
Cyberbullying is the new and, in some ways, crueller form of torment that school-aged boys and girls inflict on one another: it may not cause bodily injuries, but it is much more pervasive in that it can follow you outside school grounds and leave an indelible mark on your reputation.
Sexting, the exchange of sexually explicit material online, can also become a serious threat. What begins as an activity between two young people exploring their sexuality can easily turn into blackmail and shaming.
It is a teacher’s responsibility to ensure that students understand that the person at the other end of the connection is still a person with feelings that deserve to be respected. Educators can only create a safe environment by taking reports of cyberbullying seriously: students must be made to feel that they can talk about it freely and without fear of retaliation or dismissal.
4- First impressions
You never get a second chance to make a first impression.
Although these words have been variously attributed, changing their authorship does not change their meaning, and they are more valid than ever in a world where the first impression you make is often your online self-image rather than your person.
What others see and think about you online is only a selection of the aspects that make up the whole of yourself, and it is a selection that should be made very carefully.
Students should be trained to see the Internet as a global blackboard that can never be erased: if you make a mistake on the board, covering your tracks is as easy as wiping the chalk or marker off, but if you make a mistake on the Internet, such as posting something that gives an undesirable impression, a trace will always be available to those who know where to look.
Because we are now exposed to the Internet from an early age, a modern adult’s online self-image is years in the making and includes everything they have posted even in their childhood or teenage years, which are not a period of time known for good decisions. That is why young people must be guided in their use of the Internet and reminded that what they post now will affect their careers later. This is especially important towards the end of a K-12 education, when students are beginning to think about entering the workforce.
That said, we must not forget that cybersecurity is a skill, not a burden, and that it should be taught in a positive manner without making our children paranoid about every step they take on the Internet.