Lessons on internet safety are vital but you have to tailor them differently for primary and secondary pupils to make sure the message sinks in. Edtech expert Neil Jarrett shows you how
The internet is an amazing resource, offering pupils a wealth of knowledge at their fingertips. Furthermore, many technologies inspire children to be creative, and to communicate with others.
Unfortunately, it also has a dark side. The children we teach are digital natives – they are growing up with technology from an early age. And that is why we, as educators, must keep them safe online.
But the way we need to do this differs between phases; the risks confronting primary pupils are not always the same as those facing secondary students. Moreover, younger children are often just getting to grips with the internet and are perhaps more susceptible to being told where the dangers lie, whereas teenagers may already feel they are pretty savvy at spotting the risks, even when they’re not.
Safety at any age
There are some general safety tips that all children, regardless of age, should follow when online.
- Never use your real name or give out personal information.
- Tell an adult if something makes you feel worried.
- Make sure there is a padlock symbol in the website address bar on internet browsers, and that the website address begins with “https” (s stands for “secure”).
- Choose safe passwords. They should be between 12 and 14 characters, and include numbers, symbols and upper- and lower-case letters. Don’t go for a dictionary word or something obvious like your surname - one option is to pick a phrase and use the first letter of each word.
- Double-check information to make sure it’s true.
- Don’t open messages or files from people you don’t know.
- Never meet up with strangers.
- Don’t tell people you have never met where you are going.
- Report cyberbullies (using a report button, or by telling someone).
Safety at primary stage
After this, the differences emerge. For primary teachers, internet safety should be embedded in their daily practice. Children are constantly online and will need continual reminders and tips. I like to run short, sharp sessions on a regular basis, highlighting any of the above issues or focusing on particular problems as they crop up.
For example, do children realise how easily they can lose control of the information or pictures they put online? A good strategy is to post a message made by your class in a teaching forum, asking for it to be shared. It is amazing to see how quickly pictures can go around the world. Let the children know that this could happen with their personal information.
Role play is also a great way to make e-safety more real for children. In the past, I have asked my students to pretend to talk to each other with masks on, modelling how you never know who you are really talking to online. I then showed them this effective video from the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP).
With even younger pupils, you may want to share the story of Little Red Riding Hood, linking the wolf to people online to emphasise that not everyone is as they seem.
Cyberbullying, too, is increasingly becoming a problem for primary-age pupils and teaching children about this is very important. I challenged my students to turn their experiences into stories using the online book creator Storybird. This worked really well, allowing children to share problems they had faced and, in doing so, encouraging the whole class to find solutions.
It is important for children to learn about not giving away their name or personal information over the internet. A great lesson is to encourage the class to talk about the dangers of this during circle time, then ask them to think of a nickname they could use instead and get them to design avatars for their profile picture: monsters, emojis and cartoon characters are much safer than personal photos.
Safety for secondary students
But what about secondary pupils? A good idea for an initial lesson is to create a class “internet safety contract”. Ask the children to think of the rules themselves, giving them a sense of ownership, then print out the contract and get everyone to sign it. You can keep a copy in the classroom as a useful reminder of pupils’ responsibilities.
It is incredibly important for teachers to experience children’s online worlds. Don’t just hear about Snapchat – explore it and see what your pupils might be using it for. The only way you can really find out what they are getting up to is to have a go yourself. Run some sessions with students to look at certain apps and websites, discussing their pros and cons as a group. This NSPCC NetAware website is excellent for pointing out the risks of online media.
Fake news is a very hot topic at the moment and is a particular hazard for secondary students. This website about the Pacific Northwest tree octopus is a great resource for showing pupils that they should not believe everything they read. It’s completely believable, well written, and has facts and quotes from seemingly respectable sources. The only problem is that it’s all fake. Ask the children to explore the website and then lead a class discussion about it. What did they think of the website? Did they notice anything strange? Did they believe everything?
When you’ve told the class that the website is a complete fiction, ask what made it seem real and what that means about what we read online. You can also discuss the fact that anyone can share information on the internet, to emphasise the danger of believing what we see without question.
Engaging parents is key to keeping children safe online, and is particularly important for secondary-age students. Reach out to parents and invite them to a lesson. Encourage them to use online protection tools and parental controls. Many internet service providers provide these (also ask them to check that their search engine has “safe search” enabled).
Every secondary child will have experienced some form of online bullying. Run a session in which they can share their experiences and explore how they overcame problems. In my previous school, pupils made amazing posters to illustrate key messages about cyber-bullying. If you don’t want to create posters, why not film short videos with a movie-making app?
Are students aware of privacy settings? Google your class to see if any of their profiles are open, then ask if everyone thinks their online information is private. Most will say it is. If a child is comfortable with this, demonstrate that anyone could see their information, which is a great lead into explaining privacy settings and how to control them.
And why not invite a guest speaker such as a local police officer to talk to your class about online safety and how they handle incidents when things go wrong.
Finally, it’s a good idea to run a quiz at the end of a unit to check that all children understand how to stay safe online. Kahoot! Is a good tool for this but there are hundreds of ready-made ones to choose from.