Cybersecurity: how to teach students to use Internet responsibly

The digital environment is still surrounded by prejudices and concerns above all regarding its use by children and teens. Teachers are required to play a key role in educating young students on how to use the Internet – and technology in general – in a responsible and safe way, in order to help them build a strong awareness of opportunities and threats of cyberspace.

Why is teaching students about cyber security so important?

Today’s children and young students have the innate ability to navigate the Web and use technological devices. They are “digital natives”, they were born into the digital age and have never known a world without the Internet. Kids and teens take technology classes every day, they surf the Web for their projects, and they use the Internet during their spare time too, playing online video games, sharing their experiences on social networks and doing all sorts of “digital things”.
Children and teens see the Internet as a great big thing able to provide them with tons of answers and information about everything. They conceive the Web exclusively as a positive environment, without taking into consideration its flaws. In this case, parents and teachers play a fundamental role in making young students aware that, if they are not careful, people with bad intentions can ruin their online experience – exactly as it can happen in the “real” life.

How educators can introduce cybersecurity in the classroom

Criminals have found new ways to break into our lives through our screens. If you are a teacher, you can play a key role, training your students to become responsible digital users, guiding them and educating them on how to practice appropriate behavior while they are using blogs and social networks, navigating wiki spaces, doing online research, and so on. Here are 4 important topics you can explore in your classroom to become cybersecurity advocates.

Protection of technological devices

Today’s students think about their technology equipment as something “due”, something which is “normal”. On the contrary, they should view it as a privilege. Teachers should raise awareness on the importance of taking care of digital devices because they are precious and not invincible. Students can be educated on being always alert and active when encountering suspicious messages, links, pop-up windows, to prevent their smartphones, laptops, and tablets from being infected with malware – such as viruses, worms, and Trojan horses – that may attack while using email, blogs or social media.

Safe sites for learning and research

As said before, today’s kids and teens conceive the Web as an immense storehouse of knowledge and answers. Diving into this large sea of information may make difficult for them to explore and choose the valid and credible one. At school, they should learn how to recognize trusted digital resources: for example, teachers can provide students with a list of approved Web sites to use in class, and give them advice on how to evaluate sites in order to make responsible decisions while surfing the Net.

Prevention of Cyberbullying

Students have daily interactions with one another via chat rooms, blogs, and social networks. They are free to write about anything – and above all anyone – forwarding their opinions to many with just one click, also in an anonymous way. When these opinions are bad, when they damage the image of someone, when they hurt the sensibility of a victim, it is called cyberbullying. The consequences can be devastating, resulting in emotional stress, withdrawal from school, and even suicide.
It is fundamental to discuss the problem, and teachers can help defy this terrible behavior providing a set of guidelines to prevent and handle it. Students must be encouraged to report inappropriate online interactions to their parents, teachers, counselors, whether they are a victim or bystander. During their lessons, educators can provide examples of cyberbullying to help students understand the importance of addressing this concern and what is the boundary to be respected.

The importance of self-image

Students should be educated to the importance of “thinking before posting”. They have to understand that once they post something online – a picture, an opinion, a video – they make it available for the world to see or read.
Educators can help students promote a positive “digital self-image” through four simple questions they should ask themselves before posting:

  • Will this post affect my future career?
  • Will this post hurt anyone’s feelings?
  • How do I want to be seen by the others?
  • How will my parents feel if they read or see my post?

The Cyberkids Adventures: a practical example from Italy

For this academic year 2017-2018, Acer is supporting a special project called “Le Avventure dei Cyberkid” (“The Cyberkids Adventures”) to prevent cyberbullying in Italy by educating children and young students to a correct use of new technologies.
The project aims to increase the awareness – in both children and adults – to start considering the Web and the digital devices as important tools at our service, not to be feared or avoided.

Kids and teens receive a free educational kit at school, with important tips on how to use the Web properly. These tips are provided by SuperSpin and SwithGirl – the Cyberkids – two nice cartoon heroes who will guide the young students until the end of the academic year.
The cartoon heroes SuperSpin and SwitchGirl accompany the kids along the way.

The project, which uses a playful and creative method, is to be considered complementary to the educational path of prevention of cyberbullying, it is developed throughout Italy and it reaches teachers of 3,000 classes (about 75,000 students and their parents).

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