Tablets, smartphones and personal computers give elementary school children access to information in ways that were unimaginable to their parents and teachers.Deadly and dangerous challenges can’t be ignored. Bullying. Sexting. Adults posing as kids to abduct children. Brandi Davis, a certified child and family coach, drives this point home repeatedly in conversations with moms, dads and educators.
Davis says teachers need to make the classroom a safe space where kids feel free to express themselves, ask questions and see teachers as mentors, not adversaries.
Getting kids comfortable talking about internet hazards
“Be open and comfortable,” Davis advises teachers. “Useful conversation with children revolves around comfort. If kids come upon something that is confusing or uncomfortable, they need to tell a grown-up.
“Just as there are health classes even at the younger levels, there needs to be classes about internet safety,” said Davis. “Teachers can talk to children about chat rooms and other spaces where they are speaking to strangers. Be honest and yes, frighten them a bit, the same way that you are clear about what happens if they go into the street.
“They need to know the dangers and how to avoid them. No pictures of their uniforms, never tell anyone your school or schedule. Not talking does not keep kids out of trouble. Talk to them.”
Teachers and students need to feel free to talk about internet threats in an age-appropriate manner, says Davis, who hopes to reach out to as many communities as she can with her message of open, comfortable conversation.
Helping younger students stay safe on the internet
Davis encourages elementary school teachers to use these tactics to help their students stay safe on the internet:
- Provide a safe place for students to bring their questions. Staying silent about internet dangers will not keep kids from finding them. “Kids find everything. It is the talking about them, even when uncomfortable, that will keep kids safe,” she said.
- Find allies, team members and resources. There can be an “us against them” feeling in school from both teachers and students. Davis wants to help eliminate that and bring teachers and students together so they can have open and honest discussions about internet safety.
- New apps are popping up every day — knowing about them can help teachers remain credible resources for kids. Davis also urges teachers to stay abreast of new applications and websites kids are using every day.
Creating a partnership with parents and teachers
Davis said teachers should partner with parents to keep them current on the newest fads, apps, chat rooms and games. Keep the conversations open and help give parents words they need for each stage of development.
“Tell the parent to check browser histories,” Davis said. “A clear browser is a red flag. Find parental control software and each year Google the ones that are the best and newest and pass it on to your community of parents. The biggest thing that grown-ups can do is to talk, to not be afraid or embarrassed. This is a child’s life. Take action,” she said.
Tapping the value of clear expectations
In her work with elementary school teachers, Davis tries to convey calmer ways to communicate and recommends a more focused approach to creating expectations and reacting effectively when children don’t meet them.
What are the rules of the class? What happens when they are not followed? Davis talks about correlating discipline to unwanted behavior: Instead of yelling about a child writing on a desk, have the child clean the desk while others have free time.
Clear expectations also apply to internet safety. Kids need to know the consequences of being unsafe on the web, Davis says. Those who can’t act safely should lose web access or access it only with adult supervision.
Erin Flynn Jay is a writer, editor and publicist, working mainly with authors and small businesses since 2001. Erin’s interests also reach into the educational space, where her affinity for innovation spurs articles about early childhood education and learning strategies. She is based in Philadelphia.