As we all know, kids today have something that you and I didn’t have when we were younger—an endless encyclopedia of information called the Internet. Kids can use this information to their advantage both on and off of school grounds, but it’s obvious that as online communities like social networks become more and more popular, there will also be more instances of cyber-crime—cyberbullying and online sex offenders are just a couple of the standouts in this topic.
Unfortunately, among parents and teachers there has been the on-going, indecisive argument about who is ultimately responsible when it comes to educating our children about Internet safety.
According to an article from the Examiner.com, within the last 12 months, more than 50% of teachers reported that their school districts do NOT require that Internet safety be included in their curriculum. This percentage was taken from a sample of 1,000 teachers and was conducted by Zogby International. However, despite the debate, more than 90% of technology coordinators, school administrators, and teachers support teaching Internet Safety in schools. So I guess the real question is: “Why don’t all school districts make Internet Safety classes a required part of the curriculum?” There is, after all, a law passed that is supposed to provide just that. What am I missing?
In 2008 a federal law was passed called: Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act. It requires public schools to educate students about cyberbullying, online safety and sexual predators. As part of the law, the Federal Trade Commission is required to run a public service announcement campaign. Based on this recent study, it sounds as if, despite the law, the curriculum isn’t available.
A little over a month ago, the FCC proposed that schools that receive funding for Internet services, educate minors about appropriate online behavior on social-networking websites and in chat rooms. The rules also require training in cyberbullying awareness and response. These proposed changes are referred to as supplemental protections under the 2008 Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act.
I think that both parents AND educators have a responsibility when it comes to preparing our children for whatever the world has in store for them. Let us not forget that contemporary learning in this day and age can act as a double-edged sword, and we see this with the massive overflow of information that the Internet allows us to access, as well as the ever-increasing presence of online creepers and con artists. Whether parents and educators know it or not, the Internet is the real world for our children and this real world is presented to our kids faster than ever as they have all the information they could possibly need on something as simple as their phone.
What concerns me is that I hear about a lot of parents who don’t teach their children about Internet safety because they themselves lack the education on the topic. I also hear about parents who expect teachers to inform their children about Internet safety. This is where the current debate derives itself from. No one knows whose responsibility it is, but my question is: Since when do parents hesitate on teaching their children anything? We don’t. Especially topics that relate to our child’s everyday life: riding a bike safely; buckling a seat belt; not talking to strangers; following the rules; be respectful; have fun; be kind to others.
It’s unfortunate that in some cases, not all parents are willing to take the initiative to educate their child about important lessons, no matter what the topic is. My husband is an educator and coach, and I’ve seen him year after year take on the role of teacher, coach, mentor, father, counselor, and disciplinarian. He loves his job and his students, but I know he wishes some parents did more for their children. All debate and finger pointing aside, if the child is neglected from both sides of the table, then they’re the only ones left out in the cold.
This is why I constantly remind parents that they are the most critical part of creating a positive, safety-first online experience for their children. Parents should:
1. Educate themselves about Internet safety and stay on top of related topics that could potentially have an effect on their children. In addition to reading my Internet and Social networking safety blog, Yoursphere for Parents, I recommend these sites:
2. Understand the dangers and how their children can avoid them or handle them. Once understood, parents can have constructive conversations with their children.
3. Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue. Talk about internet safety a few times a week with your children.
4. Sit down with them at the computer and talk about the sites they use, and the people they talk to.
5. Don’t rely entirely on teachers to fill this education position.
If you can share information about the Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act, or can tell us what your school policy is, please, do share.