This one is not so much a myth, but rather an exaggeration. Yes, there is danger anytime a young student is online. However, the web is just so different than it was a few years ago when most of our online “rules” were thought of. We made rules like “never put anything online” before sites like Facebook even existed. The reality is that everything is online, privacy is being redefined, and the thought of our students not learning how to responsibly post content online has turned out to be the scariest part of all. The story of the “Scary Online Man.”
So the old Internet Safety story goes something like this: There is a bad man who wants to nab an unsuspecting young student. He goes online and within minutes he knows everything about him, just from putting together pieces from his online profile. He know’s his soccer team’s name -- so then he looks up their schedule on another website, etc. After 20 minutes, the story goes, he now knows everything and the next thing we know the boy has been taken. I know this story -- because I used to tell it. Along with every other tech teacher for the past 10 years. I would tell the story to scare kids and to let them know how dangerous the Internet is and to never post anything online. Then along came Web 2.0 (the read/write web) and cell phones for every kid.
If I was to tell this story today -- my students would laugh. Here I am telling them to never post anything online and in reality they had posted 15 things just that morning before being dropped off for school.
So what are we to do?
Teach your students to verify everything. Teach them that people lie online all the time. Teach them that they can be strong and that to run everything by a trusted adult. If the guy from the above story was to show up at your student’s soccer game and tell him that his mom Sharron (the name that he got from his evil research) wanted him to go with him to the hospital because she had been hurt. Your student should just whip out their cell phone and verify the info.
Our students are getting smart about this. They know that nothing about them is private, and that just because someone claims to know everything about you -- it does not mean they know you. And now that most students have their own cell phone, they can call mom or dad anytime that something doesn’t seem right.
Cyber-bullies Vs Pedophiles
Statistics prove that the real problem facing our children online is not the pedophiles (although this should never be minimized) but rather the cyber-bullies -- kids that say really mean things about other kids online. Some reports put this number at 80% of all students will be a victim of some type of cyber-bulling by the time they leave high school. But yet most schools are still spending 90% of their Internet Safety lessons on protecting our kids from pedophiles. We need to find a balance.
Our students should be taught how to deal with cyber-bullies. How to report them and how your school and the police deal with these types of problems. Students should be taught how to be responsible themselves and how to behave properly online. They should know that the things we say online can stay with us for a lifetime. They need to know who to turn to when something goes wrong.
FACT -- Our young students are going to post content online, with or without us, so isn’t it is up to use to teach them how to do it correctly and safely?