Article by Heather Stratford and Zach Schramm
Walking around an elementary school, you’d be hard pressed to see even one classroom that doesn’t have the infamous “Everything I Needed to Learn, I Learned in Kindergarten” poster. The list on it often includes the golden rule of treat others how they’d like to be treated, wisdom on how to share, instructions on how to clean up your own mess, and so much more. But nowhere on that list is how to stay safe online.
One thing all children are taught is not to talk to strangers, but strangers aren’t necessarily confined to luring kids into a van with candy anymore. They’re on video game platforms, Instagram, and your child’s devices. Yet with more and more children accessing the internet, and school districts handing out instructional devices such as Chromebooks and iPads as early as Kindergarten, where are the conversations happening in school about cyber hygiene and online safety.
According to a 2014 survey, 37% of Instagram users are ages 16-24. And teens spend an average of nine hours a day online — that’s more than they probably sleep per day. Of that time, 20% of teens spend 4 hours of that on social media platforms alone. This increase in device usage and connectivity among students allows them to stay connected like never before.
Teenagers are already a highly social group, and with the influx of technology, they’re no longer confined to their top five best friends at school. For example, GroupMe —a popular group chat app— allows for up to 200 users per chat. Which would mean that a high school graduating class of 549 students would only need three GroupMe chats to connect the entire senior class. Consider how quickly that would allow plans to be made, support to be gathered, but also rumors to spread and bullying to reach. Peer pressure takes on a whole new level of exposure.
All connectivity has the potential for positive and negative consequences. But at these ages, students may not fully comprehend those consequences. What they do know is that while they are able to use Virtual Reality (VR) in the classroom to augment their learn, similar technology allows them to be able to record embarrassing photos or videos at the lunch table and share it instantly with 800 people via an Instagram account as it happens. Those posts can potentially endure forever, potentially impacting a person’s career choices. Something that friends aren’t considering at that age — let alone enemies.
Even online video game platforms, which give players the ability to connect with others from across the globe, are often used by bad actors to target innocent children. New reports reveal that scammers use video games to steal money and information from children, make children feel required to send gifts of cash, or worse — including assaulting a child game player’s avatar. Technologies that can and often are used to unite people are also used for darker purposes. Preparing young technology users for these pitfalls and dangers is essential to protecting them and their health.
How to Create Change
There are three things everyone can do to create a safer community for our youth and each other:
1 — Express the importance of cyber training with school boards and administrations;
2 — Assist schools with putting in place adequate and updated training for teachers and students; and
3 — Teach important cybersecurity element at home.
These three elements will help create a culture of cybersecurity and keep children safer on the internet.
While not everyone needs to become a cyber professional to stay safe online, we all know that technology isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Technology will only become more and more a part of our lives in ways we can’t even imagine presently. But with the biggest risk in companies still being human error, learning early how to stay safe online keeps all of us safe in the long run.
In the end, the poster claiming “Everything I Needed to Learn, I Learned in Kindergarten” is really reminding us all that: what we learn early stays with us. In our world today, digital skill and good cyber hygiene are essential. As educators, leaders, cyber professionals, and parents, we need to all get on board with creating meaningful cyber education in our schools and communities. Teaching children how to protect themselves online and with technology is one of the new basics they needed to start learning in kindergarten.