The Internet is a powerful tool for research and collaboration. More and more, teachers and students must be Internet savvy in order to function in the modern world. However, we all know that the Internet, like any public space, may have content that is inappropriate for children. Time and again, issues arise about Internet safety. Here are some tips for parents and teachers to help keep kids safe:
- Supervise children on the Internet. This may seem like an obvious one, but it only takes a moment for an unsuspecting (or overly curious) child to follow a series of links and wind up where they shouldn’t be, which brings us to the second suggestion…
- Be clear about expectations. Children should know if they’re limited to specific sites or search engines, or even to specific search terms when conducting research. They should know if it’s okay for them to follow links to other sites, or if they need to stick to one site only or to the results of specific search engines.
- Use kid-friendly search engines. There are search engines designed with kids in mind, and although the search results in these engines are not 100% guaranteed to be kid-friendly, they are safer than an unregulated search. It is very important to understand, though, that kids can quickly arrive in inappropriate places by following links from site to site. Only the specific pages returned as part of a search have been pre-screened for content. Avoid unnecessary risk by being clear that students/children can only visit the sites returned in a search (see tip #2). You may want to preview a selection of search engines before sharing them with your students, as some are aimed at younger students and some at older students.
- Invest in robust web filtering software. There are many available, both paid and free to download. Ask other parents what works for them, or look for reviews online. Be sure to install any and all updates, and check to make sure the filter is set to a sensitivity that is appropriate for your child or students.
- Have a plan for those tricky moments. Like anything having to do with children, you cannot always control what happens. Even with the best plans in place, they may stumble across some inappropriate things on the Internet. In these cases, the best thing you can do is have a plan. One veteran teacher I knew had a very simple plan — if a student encountered something inappropriate (or just questionable) on the Internet, he or she was expected to immediately minimize the browser window or turn off the screen and notify the teacher. If this happened, the teacher would return the student to an appropriate site and he or she could continue working. If a student failed to notify the teacher and she found out about the incident another way (through other students, teachers, or parents), the student was found to be in violation of the Acceptable Use Policy. This is a very simple way to accomplish three things: 1. Teach students that sometimes there are inappropriate things on the Internet, and the best way to cope is to get help quickly so you can get back on track; 2. Prevent the spread of inappropriate material to other students, and; 3. Hold students accountable for their poor decisions. All students and parents were informed of this policy at the beginning of each year, and it worked beautifully. This solution may not work for every situation, but having a plan is a must!