What would you do? Yet another lesson on internet safety? Talk to the parents?

While checking out a fairly new social network for teens, I stumbled upon the user page of one of my 6th grade elementary students. The page included her name, address and school, a few photos of her and her friends, other info and of course a list of her buddy network, many of whom are also my students, but some who are Middle School students aged 16+ (and who knows if they really are who they claim to be?) .
I am worried by the fact that she and some of the others had published information which would make it so easy for them to be the targets of predators. I have informed the school principal who suggested that next lesson I once again emphasize the dangers of publishing private information on the internet. We also intend to inform the parents at the upcoming parent teacher meetings.
I wonder if anyone has any original ideas as to a lesson on the subject, we have just recently finished a unit on internet safety and these students are the same ones who shout "yeah, yeah, we already know" and "we've spoken about it before"

Tags: advice, predators, privacy, safety, social networks, teens

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There are a couple of good short videos on YouTube from the Ad Council that might help with adding something 'new' to the lessons - for those 'we know it all students'. Just search YouTube for Think Before You Post and that will bring them up.
We have held public sessions for parents guided by the school counselor about MySpace, Facebook and the Web 2.0 perils that their students can fall into. An aware parent is important when dealing with these 21st century issues. A good written school/district policy about what a teacher is to do when they find out a student is 'playing with fire' by posting inappropriately seems to me to be a necessity as well. Many kids will just respond to repeated lessons about internet safety in the way you said.
I know a principal who actually posts comments to his students' sites when he finds them on a social network. This does bring home the fact to these students that ANYONE can find their site; that there is no such thing as 'private' on a social network.
Linda thanks, "a good school/district policy" was exactly what I discovered missing when I was posed with this problem and in fact one of the reasons I posted here (of course I did inform the school principal and homeroom teachers also).
We have decided to inform parents and to ask them, yet again to take a more active interest in their children's online activity.
I had a great conversation with some 9th graders who basically said, "stop lecturing us." There argument was that there were a minority of kids who were posting objectionable stuff online while the rest were basically keeping things private and socializing. They're right. Most kids make good decisions, but we basically lambast the group whenever one kids scares us. So how can we change our curriculum accordingly? I think that one-off lessons on safet/privacy wont work. Instead, we need to use online social tools frequently in our classrooms to students learn how to do so safely and productively. But we need to recognize that just like we're not present on the weekends at a party, we're not going to be present in every virtual space they engage with.

I think that danah boyd is the person to listen to right now. Her research is all about how normal teen behavior online is, and how it is relatively safe. The only kids who are getting into real trouble are the kids who would have been getting into real trouble without the Internet. They are kids we need to be worried about already, without their online behavior.
I have had the same concerns. One thing that really made an impression, is to get the students in a class to tell you their understanding of safe and dangerous behavior. Then, once they have weighed in on the behavior without knowing that a fellow student has been unsafe, pop on the projector and project that student's web site. Have the students "suggest" how he/she should change it to be safer. Expect the student to be silent and taken aback, and expect the student's parent to come in to you to complain how they never "expected to see their site on the classroom wall" or to tell you that "they are safe, they had only friends see their page" (when, their profile page that listed them as "friends only" to view their blog also listed their full name in their email address...). You will obviously be "violating" the student in some way. I told the parent in question, "good, they should know that they are being seen by us, and by far more than their tech class on the studio wall."
That student still behaves inappropriately, but not on his "front page" which anyone can view, anymore. Some slight headway, I suppose!
This is a conversation I am used to hearing! I travel with online safety presentations where I speak to kids, teachers and parents and attempt to get the community on the same page. It is an ongoing conversation that requires vigilance. It is good that you are tech literate enough to have caught this situation in the first place! Visit my online safety site if you like: http://mysafesurf.org There are some great videos out there including some good ones on youtube. Type in "think before you click" and you'll get a couple of videos that I've seen silence entire auditoriums of kids. Best of luck to you!
Hi Kevin, thanks, I did visit your site and found a lot of useful information and resources there.
Hi Susan

Have you tried some of the activities proposed by Art Wolinsky in the CyberSafety Through Information Literacy pages? Instead of obviously tackling internet safety issue directly, these activities aim at making students reflect on how information is conveyed and can be pieced together. This seems a more effective approach than just information about the risks. just as games about group dynamics are more effective than pure information about drug effects in making young people think twice before trying drugs just because they are being passed along.

Information alone is not prevention.

But as to the parent teacher meetings, in Switzerland at least but probably in other countries too, cyberforensics experts usually accept to come and show anonymized actual examples of cyber predation (real chats between predator and prey). These seem to be rather effective in making parents realize how the border between cyber world and real world can be crossed.

We have had members of the New York Police Department and the Secret Service Task Force on Electronic Crimes speak at our school to parents and students. Both use scary examples of what has happened to kids who have been stalked by online predators. While it is frightening, their education pieces usually aren't that great in my opinion. They keep repeating that kids should post not personal information online, never give out school name, age, location, their name, phone number etc and that they should never talk to strangers online. It isn't practical advice for teenagers who are using Facebook, MySpace, Friendster, etc. We have students who get into debates about animal rights, about the war, about elections - many of these discussions are with strangers. Is that a problem? No. It is a problem if they meet a stranger or give them personal information, of course. But our education programs need to be much more savvy than scaring kids away from online predataors a la Dateline.

It is a real struggle to create a culture where students are encouraged to use online social spaces, but is a safe and productive way.

Also take a look at the PEW study on online social behavior amongst teens.
Hi Susan,
I just did an inservice with students on Internet Safety and used a WONDERFUL program that has three components. It is out of Canada. The students loved it and were so responsive. Check out www.cybercops.net. It will give you a short run down on the programs. The three are titles: Missing, Mirror Image and Air Dogs. Missing can be viewed by accessing www.livewires.com or www.webwisekids.org. Good luck
Hi all,
I saw a study a while back (can't find, of course) that said that anything that is perceived by kids as scare tactics will cause a reaction of "they just don't understand". So that while we (rational well-meaning adults) think:
Scary thing => don't do it

kids (especially teens) hear:

Scary thing => they don't get it, therefore I don't have to listen

Which increases gap between adults and children and lessens the likelihood that they will come to you in confidence with problems or issues.

So I think Sue is on the right track with student-led discussions of their own behavior.
Hi Susan,
We had a few lessons with my 9th grade class on internet safety during the Safe Internet week here in Israel.
I used a few of the well done video clips on this page (in Hebrew) as triggers for some very good discussions.
I can't tell you if it resulted in changed behaviors, but it did bring about some more awareness about the problems.
All the best.
Hi Reuven, we too used the video clips, unfortunately it seems that not all the children were affected by them or if they were -it might have had the opposite effect as Sylvia states. I'm beginning to think that maybe we "responsible adults" - parents, teachers etc should be making ourselves more felt on these "social networks for kids and teens" . Even if our presence doesn't change their behaviour, we will at least be aware (more aware) of their online environment.



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