Almost 90% of teenagers have home access to a computer and almost half of teenagers say they’re online almost constantly. It’s more important than ever before to teach internet safety for high school students. This is due in part to complacency—with such computer prevalence, it’s easy to become relaxed and fatigued on the most basic internet safety principles.
Why? Well, let’s not forget that teenagers (13-17 years old) grew up with this technology. In the early and mid 2000s, when this age group was born, computer ownership fluctuated around 75% in US. The iPhone, which not only made the smartphone a household name, but a household requirement, launched in 2007. This technology was in their hands earlier than any other generation.
How do you combat this complacency? While it may seem paradoxical, it’s important to return to the basics, but also teach more advanced safety tips. Here are five tips in teaching internet safety for high school students:
Teach the Risks & Rewards
Internet safety all starts with educating all students on the dangers and risks of being online. Be open and honest. Don’t sugar coat—transparency is key. Since high schoolers are older, this is a great time to share any unpleasant personal experiences you’ve had with the internet. This is not to paint the internet as a bad place, but to remind them that there are dangers.
It’s also important to remind high students that what they contribute to the internet, including what they share on social media, can stay with them a long time. Social media is often used a tool to screen candidates for jobs and college entrance. They should never post anything that is discriminatory to anyone, even in jest.
Teach the Art of Data Mining
Encourage older students to perform an exhaustive data mine on themselves once a quarter. For someone who has regularly Googled herself over the years, I was shocked what my latest results returned. An uncomfortable amount of personal information including current address, old phone numbers and addresses, family names—the works! Much of this information was on third party sites that I could contact to remove my information which was a huge relief.
Students should do just this, and when they find personal information that they do not want online, help them contact the sites to remove the information. Even if the information is outdated, it should still be removed. Old contact info can often be used for verification purposes in setting up bank accounts, applying for personal, auto, or student loans, etc., as well as security questions for important online accounts.
- Search names, usernames, and nicknames using quotation marks.
- Search on various search engines (Google, Bing, etc.).
- Sign out of any browser prior to searching as results can be filtered when signed in.
- Use various browsers to perform the search (Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Safari, Opera, etc.) as they will yield different results.
- Go past the first page of results until the name no longer appears (five pages deep at minimum).
Enable Privacy Settings on Social Media
With 27% of teenagers using social media hourly, don’t skip this tip! Encourage your students to restrict their privacy settings appropriately across all social media platforms.
Social media privacy settings have come a long way. Largely, they are much more granular which gives the user more control. However, this means there are more settings, and it’s easy to miss one or two that could be set to public when they should be restricted. Comb through privacy settings together to ensure none are missed.
Students on social media should also:
- Regularly review their friends or followers on social media and remove anyone that should not be there.
- Regularly review their posts and remove those they would not want a parent, teacher, employer, or college official to see.
- Regularly review posts, images, and videos in which they are tagged, and remove tags as appropriate.
Don’t Disclose Personal Info to Strangers
This seems like a no brainer, but it deserves its due and bears repeating. Never disclose sensitive information online, especially to strangers. Under no circumstances! This includes where they go to school, their address, their phone number, their various social media handles, etc.
Since teenagers have been around the internet for so long, they may start to feel like a veteran. They could start to feel like they could spot a fake. Most likely not true. It doesn’t matter how trustworthy the person may seem; you simply don’t know the real person on the other side of the screen. All it takes is one conversation to let sensitive information slip into the wrong hands.
Teach Digital Best Practices
Ideally, internet safety for high school students falls into a larger lesson on digital literacy, a core tenet of digital citizenship. Digital literacy is a broad topic, but it deals with how to interact responsibly online and evaluate information online effectively. Safety falls into digital literacy as well.
While this may take more time to teach, here are a few key best practices students can follow immediately:
- Use strong alphanumeric passwords: teach about password safety and password algorithms.
- Make sure parents or guardians have access to student passwords. Students can write passwords on a piece of paper, place it in a sealed security envelope, and store in a safe, but visible, place so their parents can access passwords in case of an emergency.
- Stress the importance of logging out of online accounts by physically signing out, not just closing the browser window. This is especially important if students are sharing devices.
- Encourage students to regularly back up their files including important emails and photos.
If You See Something, Say Something
Perhaps the most important and universal tip—if you see something, say something. As digital citizens, we are responsible for ourselves and others. The internet is not just a place where your identity can be stolen. It’s also the playground for cyberbullying. Give examples of cyberbullying. If a student sees suspicious, discriminatory, or uncouth behavior, encourage them to bring their concerns to a responsible adult.
In order for this tip to work, it’s crucial to create an honest and transparent environment where students feel comfortable to bring concerns to an adult, whether that be their teacher or parent.
Even if you create the most trusting environment in the world, teenagers can still be deterred from bringing their concerns to an adult. This is why it’s so important to check in with high school students regularly about their online and social media habits. Pay attention to what they’re interested in online and who they are talking to. Limit access to certain sites to avoid potentially harmful situations.
While teenagers may be complacent to technology, it’s always important to teach internet safety for high school students. Use these five tips to remind older students how to stay safe online.
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