Online Safety

Blog · Sep 23, 2020

These days, kids spend more time online than ever before. Present circumstances have driven increases in the average amount of time kids are logging on for distance learning and virtual socializing. A recent survey of more than 3,000 parents found that their kids’ screen time had increased by 500% during the pandemic. For middle and high school students, an online presence is a fact of life. It’s hard to imagine a reversal of this reality, so it is critical that students and parents understand and are prepared to apply the concepts of digital citizenship to ensure a safe and satisfying experience. By teaching and encouraging digital citizenship and responsible online behavior, schools can better engage their students in safe and productive remote learning environments, and the students can enjoy recreational activities online safely. This week, we’ll explore how a learning culture that promotes the critical examination of online resources, fosters media fluency, and promotes digital citizenship can set students up for success.

Online encounters provide an opportunity for your students to practice their positive influencing and be a role model for their friends and online peers.

Built to Last

Teaching students how to maintain a safe and responsible online presence and digital footprint will help them stay focused on their studies remotely and on-campus. Many social skills used offline, or “IRL,” as the kids say, are also applicable in online contexts. Critical thinking, responsible decision making, effective communication, and managing emotions form a skillset at the heart of digital citizenship. Students who apply these skills in online contexts like social media sites or multi-player games, are more likely to act as respectful digital citizens and leave digital footprints that will serve them well in the future.

A central tenet of digital citizenship is the responsible consumption and sharing of content online. When students are able to analyze online content, navigate social media safely, and manage the influences of their peers online, they are more likely to work confidently to achieve their goals with less stress. Effective content analysis includes verifying sources, seeking corroborating information, and considering the consequences of sharing content on social media sites. Students need to practice mindfulness when viewing online content and to step back from content that could be harmful, hurtful, or inflammatory. Because so much online content is attention-seeking by design, it is easy to become swayed by hyperbole or allow a narrative to have an outsized influence on our attitudes and perceptions of a topic. To best mitigate this effect, it is useful to seek out multiple points of view and then form our own opinions of a topic supported by the broad understanding we have collected. These activities take time, and require that students avoid the reflexive reactions of sharing content which seems exciting at first glance. When students take the time to stop, think, and corroborate before initiating an online action, the content they do share will provide more value in the online community.

Your Permanent Record

A fun part of social media interactions is the exchange of stories, experiences, and observations, but not everything should be shared. Talk with your students about taking the time to weigh the benefits and risks of passing on information or posting content about themselves or others. Remind your students that the information they share and post online becomes a part of their digital footprint. Demonstrate for your students the permanence of many social media interactions. Much of the content distributed through social media is indexed online and can be seen in search results in perpetuity. Pictures and content designed to grab the attention of social circles in the present day will also garner the attention of future employers, admissions counselors, and more. Explain to your students that they should consider their future goals when contributing to their online profiles, as their digital footprints will likely be referenced online for many years to come.

Express for Success

Navigating social media content referencing a peer requires special care and attention to prevent unkind behavior like sharing confidential information or piling on attacks on others. Encourage your students to consider the potential consequences of what they say before sharing or commenting online. The anonymous nature of online encounters, even among friends and acquaintances, can passively permit actions we would never commit or condone in person. When students apply empathy for others, they are more likely to consider the effects of negative online interactions as if they were directed at themselves. As students practice identifying their emotions, they are better equipped to recognize the feelings and potential reactions of others and more likely to respond appropriately to evocative or negative posts.

Say It. Don’t Spray It.

Effective communication skills are also a core component of digital citizenship. Many elements of successful face-to-face communication are absent in online forums. Even in video conferencing encounters, the verbal and non-verbal cues essential to communicating a message are subdued or distorted. We have to work harder to glean the true meaning of messages received when communicating in video conferences and we must work harder to refine our own messaging to ensure the correct message is received by others. When students can apply effective communication skills in online communication, they will be better equipped to handle conflict peacefully, share feelings and ideas with others, and build strong relationships. Effective communicators are better able to make decisions consistent with their goals and develop healthy relationships.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

The skill of identifying and selecting positive peers promotes pro-social peer bonding, a critical protective factor. Adolescents surrounded with positive peer influences make more responsible, less-risky choices and are more likely to reach their goals. With much of student social interaction occurring online, many of the opportunities for positive peer influence exposure is limited or absent. However, online encounters provide an opportunity for your students to practice their positive influencing and be a role model for their friends and online peers. Speak with students about applying prosocial behaviors when interacting in social media or online games.

The promotion of digital citizenship and respectful online behavior is paramount as students spend increasingly more time online. When parents and educators invest in the promotion of digital citizenship, the result will be healthier, happier students who are ready to learn. Applying the skills which form the foundation of the Too Good programs to promote responsible digital citizenship sets a base from which students can engage in safe and productive remote learning environments and online recreational activities, alike.

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