Cyber Safety – a bigger issue in homes than in schools?

At the start of the school year I’m teaching a series of workshops on cyber safety for students from Years 3 – 6 . These workshops coincide with the distribution the annual student Internet Agreement that parents and students sign.

Part of the agreement that parents and students sign is that they have had a conversation about cyber safety at home. We provide notes for parents to support those conversations with possible scenarios that might be encountered at home.

In the first of the cyber safety workshops for Years 3 to 6 students I was keen to conduct some research on student usage. I used data from the ACMA’s 2007 report: Media and Communication in Australian Families as a baseline on student usage and whilst the research methods were different [my method was a simple hands up survey after some clarifying questions] the results of the survey do have a consistent trend.

Questions 2007 ACMA 2010 Elsternwick PS
Do you use the internet to play online games against other players? 32% 79%
Do you use the Internet to complete homework? 23% 82%
Do you use a mobile phone for talking? E.g. to friends and family 16% 55%
Do you use the computer for messaging? 10% 69%
Do you use the computers to watching / listening to media? E.g. Youtube, DVD’s 8% 85%
Do you use computers for social networking? E.g Skype, Face book, My Space, MSN 7% 65%
Do you own a mobile and use it for text messaging? 5% 10%

I don’t think I was surprised by the significant increase in the use of computers for entertainment represented by the use of online games and watching media: DVD’s and downloading music.

The students talked about games they buy or get as presents and one of their major selection criteria is the ability to play against other people online and talk to them as they play.

I wasn’t at all surprised at the increase of students in using computers to watch DVD’s or download songs for ipods  etc… although the popularity of you tube at years 3 and 4 did raise an eyebrow. A question on downloading movies and showing them at school was raised to which I said NO.

I think the trends in lots of ways reflects the increased power of computers in homes to handle life like screen graphics and download media quickly .

What did surprise me was the huge increase at this age range in social networking and messaging. Social networking according to these 8-12 year old students included using: Skype, Facebook, MySpace and MSN. The fact that all these students using were under 13 years of age and some were using using MySpace or Facebook raised my eyebrows. It does prompt an article for parents in a future newsletter.

Cyber safety it seems from this data is a bigger issue at home than at school – no surprise there. Most students agreed they have more time on the computer at home than at school and use online programs currently banned or not available at school [e.g. Face book].

This does pose a question on should we be banning these programs or teaching students, certainly in secondary schools, how to use them responsibly.

I also got the impression that many students thought I as an authority figure would automatically think that using the internet for anything other than homework was a bad thing. This did prompt other questions about the perceived digital divide but at this stage I didn’t go there.

What I did promise students is that I would provide links for them to short videos I used to discuss issues around cyber bullying. Whether the videos are used to have a conversation with their parents or they just want to watch them again I’m not sure but it cannot hurt to reinforce some messages no matter what.

What some also asked was to learn things like how to use spam filters so I promised some links here as well – a little later.

http://www.wiseuptoit.com.au/

I used Laurens clip to discuss password security.

For the senior students I also used an award winning British clip on the effects of cyberbullying on a boy called Joe from http://www.digizen.org/cyberbullying/fullFilm.aspx

What I have learnt is that we need to come back to these issues again and again to support our youth as they grow up in the digital world.