Cyberpsychology unlocks why kids overshare online

16th July 2016 at 10:00
TES ed tech columnist Claire Lotriet looks at how new research can help teachers educate their pupils about online safety

Despite having a seemingly comprehensive computing curriculum that covers aspects of online safety, from responsible to respectful use of technology, I think we have an issue on our hands: something isn’t connecting with our young people when it comes to staying safe online.

When I speak to colleagues from different settings, we all seem pretty confident that our children know how to stay safe but, in many instances, they don’t. Why?

Recently, I heard @RhiKavok give a talk about cyberpsychology – a branch of psychology that focuses on human-machine interaction. I looked into it more, hoping to find answers for us teachers who sometimes feel like we’re banging our heads against the (Facebook) wall when it comes to dealing with online safety incidents.

I discovered that communicating via a computer or mobile device might result in more outgoing behaviour from pupils – particularly among extremely introverted or shy people; the anonymity and distance from the situation helps them overcome their inhibitions. This might explain why the usually sensible, quiet kid indulges in out-of-character behaviour online.

Another study found that conscientiousness is negatively related to a person’s internet usage. Thinking about this in school terms, it would mean that the pupils who use the internet most are likely to show less self-discipline and behave less dutifully online. Perhaps this is down to getting a little too comfortable and being a little less aware of what they’re doing. But then you could argue that children who don’t get the opportunity to share online will never learn how to do it responsibly.

As for risk, one study found that gender was a key factor among teenagers: boys are more likely to share personal information than girls because they use social-network sites to strike up new relationships, while girls use them to consolidate existing ones. Those who are susceptible to peer influence are also more likely to have looser privacy settings and overshare.

This is fascinating, but how might it help stop yet another teacher having to deal with a regretful student, who did know better but can’t really explain why they pressed “send”? If these studies can help us shape an effective online safety curriculum, then we might yet get to a point where such incidents of oversharing decrease. At the moment, it seems we still have a way to go.

Claire Lotriet is a teacher at Henwick Primary School in London. She blogs at www.clairelotriet.com and tweets at @OhLottie

This is an article in the 15 July edition of TES. This week's TES magazine is available at all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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