Cybersafe Young Children: Going Back to School

September 2, 2020

Regardless of where you live, "going back to school" has an entirely different connotation this year. Whether in-school, a hybrid model or completely remote, technology (and cybersafety) will play a prominent role for teachers and parents alike. Online safety education and civility -- once considered “supplemental” -- now need to be an integral part of the curriculum. And they need to begin at the earliest levels of education.

Teaching children to be good citizens has long been a staple of education. Now there is ample evidence that teaching good “digital citizenship” is essential as well. Being a good online citizen is more than being a safe Internet user; it’s about being responsible, smart and having respect for yourself and others. And, teaching and learning about good digital citizenship now, will help to prevent cyberbullying later on.

Given all the uncertainties and new preparations necessary for this school year, it is clear that teachers do not need “one more thing.” Therefore, it is important to point out that teaching good digital citizenship can easily become part of the regular curriculum and the daily life of the classroom, in-person or virtual. Teaching digital citizenship incorporates social-emotional learning, executive function, conceptual development and literacy. It reinforces basic literacy skills – through charting, story and discussion, word webs, vignettes, puppet plays, writing and connecting with older students, children build their “literate community” in preparation for becoming good digital citizens.

This year, especially with remote learning, parents may be leaning more than ever into “educator mode.” Here are some ideas on how teachers and parents can help children develop the skills they will need to be safe and responsible while on line.

Gather Information at the beginning of the school year to determine children’s range of knowledge about digital devices

  • Involve parents through a survey or questionnaire
  • Discuss with children their online activities

Establish Rules

  • Begin with what it means to be a good classroom and school citizen
  • Ascertain children’s experience with digital technology and social media
  • Establish classroom rules about good digital citizenship
  • Establish family guidelines for use of technology

Conduct concrete activities around online safety and civility

  • About the meaning of courage and standing up for yourself and a friend
  • About understanding privacy
  • About the meaning of permanence
  • Read books about online safety

Ensure that children’s privacy is protected when they are in the virtual classroom or at home

  • Different platforms offer different ways to protect privacy and it is important to use features that prevent anyone else from entering

Introduce or remind children of the importance of password protection

  • For example, the password used to get into their online classroom should not be shared with others or used for any other purpose

Finally, teachers and parents need to share information. Parents should be sure to get a copy of the school’s cybersafety rules so they can talk with their child about them and how the rules will be continued at home. To be successful, as in all school matters, families and schools need to work together to keep children safe and protected -- in both the real and virtual world.

To learn more about this topic, read Cybersafe Young Children: Teaching Internet Safety and Responsibility, K-3, written by Barbara Sprung, Merle Froschl, and Nancy Gropper, available from the Teachers College Press. See pages 63-67 for activities around permanence, privacy, and password protection; pages 75-77 for picture books about face-to-face teasing and bullying; and pages 79-80 for children’s books about online safety and cyberbullying protection.

Written by

Merle Froschl

Merle Froschl has over 35 years of extensive experience in developing innovative programs and materials that foster equality of opportunity for students regardless of gender, race/ethnicity, disability, or level of family income. She was the co-founder and co-director of Educational Equity Concepts, Inc. (EEC), a national non-profit organization whose mission was to create bias-free programs and materials. As director of Educational Equity at FHI 360, Ms. Froschl provides leadership and oversight to projects that include curriculum development, professional development, parent education, research and evaluation, and coalition-building. She is the co-author of Cybersafe Young Children: Teaching Internet Safety and Responsibility K-3 (Teachers College Press, 2020).