As parents, teachers, and responsible caring adults, we must be as intentional about teaching and modeling online safety as we are about everyday safety. This brief overview explores some basic safety strategies to consider when approaching the two most critical concerns surrounding a child or student’s use of the Internet: (1) the student’s ability to access inappropriate material; and (2) the potential risk to the student’s personal safety when “meeting” someone online.
In this introduction, we will briefly explore the actions you can take, as a parent, educator, or concerned adult, to both minimize the risk and maximize the ultimate benefit to learning and teaching that the Internet offers. Annotated hyperlinks to additional background and resources on these topics and on Internet safety in general, as well as to hyperlinks to safe and educational Web sites for children, parents, teachers and other concerned adults, are provided throughout the TECH CORPS’ resource section on Internet Safety.
Discussions and instruction relating to the safe use of the Internet must begin as soon as a child or student goes online. Whether your children or students are already online or are about to get online for the first time, talk with them about Internet Safety right away – and then keep right on talking about it!
One of the most important issues you need to discuss with your child or student is under what circumstances and according to what guidelines they will be allowed to “meet and greet” people online. Children and students must be taught that the same “Stranger Danger” rules they follow in their daily lives also apply to strangers they meet through e-mail or an Internet conversation group. The Internet is every bit as public a space as the town library or a shopping mall.
Children should never divulge personal information about themselves or their family or school – name, age, address, school, etc. without adult supervision. Nor should they ever arrange to meet someone they have met online in person unless an authorized parent is both consulted and present …even if they have corresponded with that person for a period of time. Online discussion formats like chat rooms and e-mail create a false sense of security and anonymity that can be easily exploited.
One way to continually reinforce online safety rules in both the classroom and the home is to develop an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) that incorporates these and other cautions, and can serve as a guideline for children regarding their use of the Internet. Acceptable Use Policies are “rules of the road” for online safety, and should be developed with input from the child or student. The rules should be written down, signed by students, parents, and teachers, and prominently posted near the computer.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s rules for online safety provides an excellent model upon which to base your home or school AUP:
My Rules for Online Safety
My Rules for Online Safety
- I will not give out personal information such as my address, telephone number, parents’ work address/phone number, or the name and location of my school without my parent’s permission.
- I will tell my parents right away if I come across any information that makes me feel uncomfortable.
- I will never agree to get together with someone I meet online without first checking with my parents. If my parents agree to the meeting, I will be sure that it is in a public place and bring my mother or father along.
- I will never send a person my picture or anything else without first checking with my parents.
- I will not respond to any messages that are mean or in any way makes me feel uncomfortable. It is not my fault if I get a message like that. If I do, I will tell my parents right away so that they can contact the online service.
- I will talk with my parents so that we can set up rules for going online. We will decide upon a time of day that I can be online, the length of time I can be online, and appropriate areas for me to visit.
- I will not access other areas or break these rules without their permission.
But remember, like any other set of rules, these guidelines must also carry penalties if a child or student violates the negotiated safety rules. However, the penalties for violating the negotiated rules should also be negotiated with the child or student, and should be developed when you develop your safety rules.
Keep your children or students continually reminded of the online safety rules listed above by downloading a free Online Safety Screen Saver for your home or school computer(s). The screen savers summarize the three most important online safety rules for pre-school, elementary and middle school students never give out personal or school information, always tell an adult about inappropriate online contact, and never meet an “electronic” friend in-person without a parent’s knowledge and consent. The screen savers are a free resources developed by TECH CORPS and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. You may download as many free copies as you want from the TECH CORPS Internet Safety Resource Page for use at home or in schools.
For safety quizzes, contracts, and Acceptable Use Policies, click here.
For general information on Internet safety, click here.
For general information on Internet safety organizations, click here.
A child or student’s use of the Internet should always be supervised, whether by a parent, a teacher, or another responsible adult. On those special occasions when independent use of the Internet might be permissible, take into consideration the child’s particular age, behavior, work habits, and familiarity with your online safety rules before deciding whether to allow “unsupervised” Internet use. Independent use of the Internet should be given thoughtful consideration before being allowed.
Directed activities are also important in using the Internet safely. “Surfing” the Internet is not a directed activity and presents the opportunity for children to inappropriately access adult material online. Give your children or students a specific purpose and plan to follow when they go online, to help ensure a positive learning experience.
One way to do this is to pre-approve or select acceptable sites yourself by visiting and evaluating Web sites first-hand, or by using lists or databases of sites that have been compiled by sources that you trust. For example, the American Library Association’s (ALA) “Guide to CyberSpace for Parents and Kids” lists 700+ safe education sites. You can link to these sites via the ALA Web site, or you can create your own select list of “favorite” sites or “bookmarks” on a home or school computer, using your preferred browser. This gives the child access to good educational sites without their having to surf the Internet independently.
If you need help in figuring out how to use a browser, or how to create a “favorites” list (using the Internet Explorer browser) or a “bookmarks” list (using the Netscape browser), see the appropriate chapter in webTeacher, TECH CORPS’ free Internet tutorial, for a complete explanation and instructions.
For safe sites for kids, tweens, and teeens, click here.
For safety resources for parents, click here.
For safe sites for teaching and learning, click here.
There are an increasing number of sites that provide links that are advertised as being “safe” for kids by virtue of their adherence to a particular rating or filtering system.
Rating systems use various standards and methods. Some rating systems screen-out certain sites based on the name of the site (for example, if the site name contains adult language); other systems screen out certain types of content, certain words, or some combination of all three criteria. Some Web sites “rate” themselves according to these systems or standards, while others are ranked and rated by independent authorities.
Several companies also offer filtering programs or software that can block a child or student’s access to certain kinds of adult materials on the Internet. Some of the programs match the name of the Web site against a list of forbidden sites – others screen the words contained in the site name and deny access to those that suggest obscene or pornographic material. Some of these applications allow teachers or parents to customize the filters. When looking at these programs, realize that not all of these filtering programs work equally well on every browser or with every Internet Service Provider.
In addition, virtually all of the major commercial online service providers and numerous Internet Service Providers offer customers the ability to configure their system to control children’s access to inappropriate material online. Most browsers can also be configured to control such access.
Another approach to producing a protected environment for students is called “contouring.” Contoured sites may contain extensive links to other sites, but access by the user is limited to this list of approved sites. Once students enter one of these “restricted zones” online, they may freely roam within the parameters that the provider has defined as “safe”, but they cannot access other sites, even if those sites have been determined by some other authority to be a “safe” site.
For information and resources on Internet content control, click here.
For information on Internet content control products, click here.
For safe sites for teaching and learning, click here.
As with so many areas of life, making effective educational use of the Internet, in a manner that is also safe for children and students, requires finding an appropriate balance between freedom and control. The challenge with any approach to restricting online access is to be restrictive enough to limit access to undesirable material, while being open enough to allow students the freedom, responsibility and intellectual independence to learn and benefit the most from their online experiences. That challenge is basically the same regardless of whether the restrictions are imposed through low tech strategies such as negotiated safety rules or through high tech solutions such filtering programs.
Always remember that while rules and filters and other approaches to online safety can help, the best way to protect a child or student is to actively supervise them when they are online. No system, strategy, or program can be completely “kid-proofed”. Inventive and determined children with the necessary resources, time, knowledge and maturity, can bypass virtually any safeguards!
To sum up, the Computer Network offers a perspective that TECH CORPS strongly advocates:
“Software is no substitute for parental guidance. Most products can be defeated; those that can’t, are so restrictive that kids may be prevented from getting the most from their online experience. Our advice: supervise your children when they’re online, just as you do during other activities. Software, the government, standards, organizations, the V-chip – none can replace Mom or Dad as co-pilot.”
To learn more about online safety, we invite you to link to and explore the selected resources, information, organizations and Web sites in this special Internet Safety section of the TECH CORPS Web site. This special resources section is brought to you by a special collaboration between TECH CORPS, The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and the Dr. Scholl Foundation.
Please know that that the hyperlinks included throughout the TECH CORPS Web site were current at the time they were published on this site, and that TECH CORPS makes every effort to refresh and update all hyperlinks on a regular basis. However, TECH CORPS is not responsible for the content that may appear on other Web sites, or the links that may be accessed through the Web sites that are included in this or any other TECH CORPS resources. If you should find a resource link from the TECH CORPS Web site that is out-dated or contains age-inappropriate material, we would appreciate your help in notifying the TECH CORPS Web Master at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For an introduction to finding educational content, conducting searches, and otherwise making effective educational use of the Internet, see TECH CORPS’ award winning, nationally recognized, and FREE online Internet tutorial, webTeacher. Although written by teachers and for teachers, webTeacher is an excellent advertisement-free guide to the Internet for children, parents and other adults at every stage of learning, from first-time online novices to advanced Internet users. We invite you to make webTeacher your online guide to safe and effective use of the Internet at www.webteacher.org.
For safe sites on teaching and learning, click here.