As usual, I amassed a mountain of information for my latest ASBJ cover story, “Protecting Students Online” now available at ASBJ.com.
As the title suggests, ensuring students are productive, learning, and most importantly safe when they go online is more complicated than even I had originally thought. Of course, news reports have made cyberbullying and sexual predators well-known threats (though recent studies have refuted the prevalence of online stranger, saying it is overblown by the media.)
Rather it was the other, lesser-known hazards (at least to me) that were surprising. Who knew there was an entire cyber-subculture that promoting, or at least promulgating, eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia? Or that gang members had taken to the Internet to recruit and brag about their exploits, an activity that even has its own moniker: net banging.
It makes sense when you think about it, though. Just about anything you can find in the real world has its virtual counterpoint. So what’s an educator or a parent to do in this risk-laden world? Some, as you’ll discover, rely on filters, blocking questionable or even unfamiliar material. That’s only a temporary solution, however, says Sophie Reid, a clinical psychologist and research fellow at the Centre for Adolescent Health at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, Australia.
“When a child comes to us and says I want to go rock climbing, you don’t say it’s too dangerous or I’ll do it for you,” says Reid who was one of the panelists at an online safety conference last spring. “Instead you go to a reputable establishment, put them on rope we know won’t break, stand at the bottom, attach the other end of the rope to us and let them go up; if they fall, we’ve taken up the slack.”
Reid says educators and parents need to take the same approach when addressing online youth safety.
“We need to engage young people in their space, we need to be a reliable and helpful presence on the Internet because that’s where they’ve gone,” she says.
Naomi Dillon, Senior Editor