What do your students enjoy doing online? Which services and devices do they use?
In today’s digital age, the internet has become an integral part of our lives. From online learning to entertainment and social interactions, it offers children a vast world of opportunities. However, with these opportunities come certain risks that parents and educators must address.
A 2022 study on ‘Children’s Wellbeing in a Digital World Index Report’ by Internet Matters revealed “interesting aspects of digital participation in the modern UK home.” Here are the key findings:
- Parents who feel confident in online safety are more likely to believe digital technology impacts children’s wellbeing in a positive way
- Parents are more likely than their children to perceive negative impacts on their children’s emotions
- Vulnerable children have more upsetting experiences online compared to non-vulnerable children
A separate research study, which analysed internet crime report data obtained from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation spanning the years 2015 to 2020, arrived at the conclusion that Thai children faced significant challenges in addressing the growing cyber threats. This study also revealed that Thailand ranked third lowest globally in terms of children’s capacity to manage online risks. (source: Bangkok Post)
Ensuring the safety of children aged 5-11 on the internet is paramount. In this blog post, I’ll introduce some essential tips and ideas for both parents and educators to promote internet safety in a world that’s more connected than ever before.
Start Early: Building Digital Literacy
As we all know, children are like sponges, and they can quickly adapt to technology. By starting early, you can build a strong foundation for digital literacy, even in the ELT classroom.
- Introduce age-appropriate educational websites and apps that promote learning while having fun. Take your learners’ levels of English into consideration before you make a recommendation.
- Recommend websites, apps, or online courses designed for English language learning to enhance children’s language skills online.
- Teach children the basics of navigating websites and using search engines safely. These are important skills in any language and they lend themselves to live listening practice too.
- Emphasise the importance of strong, unique passwords, even for their online games. Making up passwords and evaluating them is a good problem solving task that allows young learners to practice their language skills.
Child-friendly search sites like this one could be beneficial for WebQuests and online research tasks.
Open Communication: The Key to Trust
Establishing open communication with children is crucial. They should feel comfortable discussing their online experiences, both good and bad. Language plays an important role in online interactions and the ability to distinguish credible information from harmful and biased content.
- Create a safe space where children can ask questions and share their concerns.
- Encourage them to inform you or a trusted adult about any strange or uncomfortable encounters online.
- Remind them that you are there to help, not to punish.
Tasks where learners have to categorise experiences into positives and negatives are a good way to bring up these topics in the primary English language classroom. Asking follow-up questions that help learners share their online experiences can help establish open communication about the good and the bad.
Setting Boundaries: Screen Time and Content
Setting limits on screen time and guiding children towards age-appropriate content helps maintain a healthy balance between online and offline activities. Parents often establish a daily screen time limit, use parental control software to filter inappropriate content and websites and encourage offline activities such as reading, playing outside, or pursuing hobbies. Classroom activities centered around these topics might include opinion or for/against essays, debates or drama based tasks.
Schools should have their own online safety policies so make sure that you are familiar with yours. You could exploit the rules around online safety in the classroom to teach certain language points such as imperatives and modal verbs. It’s valuable practice for the learners as well as helping them understand the expectations around screens.
Teach Online Etiquette: The Golden Rule Applies
Just as children learn to behave in the physical world, they should also understand how to interact respectfully online.
- Highlight the importance of English language skill. Strong language skills are essential for responsible online behaviour.
- Teach them about the importance of being kind, respectful, and responsible when communicating with others. For instance, you could do this through activities where learners have to upgrade the language to sound more polite and respectful.
- Discuss the consequences of cyberbullying and how to report it. As a class project, write a guide for other classes on how to deal with cyberbullying.
- Emphasise that what goes online stays online, so they should be careful about what they share. Evaluating examples of online content teaches children the skills they need to navigate our connected world as well as provide useful reading, speaking and life skills practice.
Privacy Matters: Protecting Personal Information
Children should be aware of the importance of safeguarding their personal information in a digital environment. Form-filling tasks are good ways to:
- Explain the concept of personal information (name, address, school) and why it should never be shared with strangers.
- Teach them about the risks of accepting friend requests or messages from people they don’t know in real life.
- Emphasise the need to keep passwords and usernames secret.
Stay Involved: Monitor and Explore Together
Parents and educators should actively engage with children in their online activities to understand their digital world.
- Explore the internet together, discovering safe and educational websites.
- Regularly review their online friends and connections.
- Keep an eye on the apps and games they use, ensuring age-appropriateness.
Online Safety Education at School
Educators play a vital role in teaching online safety. Schools should incorporate digital literacy and internet safety into their curriculum. At every British international school I have taught at, it has been mandatory for all staff to undergo annual child protection and safeguarding training. Fortunately, more and more language centres require their staff to do the same.
As English language teachers, we can do out part too:
- Integrate internet safety lessons into the English language curriculum.
- Promote responsible online behaviour through classroom discussions and activities.
- Encourage students to report any online issues to teachers or school authorities.
Navigating the Digital World Safely
In an increasingly digital world, internet safety for children aged 5-11 is a shared responsibility between parents and educators. By starting early, maintaining open communication, setting boundaries, teaching online etiquette, emphasising privacy, staying involved, and incorporating online safety education at school, we can ensure that our children can enjoy the benefits of the internet while staying safe. Remember, the key to success lies in education, communication, and collaboration in promoting a safe online environment for our young digital explorers.