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So, you’re in charge of putting together an online safety curriculum for students. If you’re overwhelmed, it’s no wonder why; online safety is a broad and important curriculum band. The threats are also constantly changing, which can make some educators feel as though they are swimming upstream when creating online safety curriculum.

Teaching students online safety can be challenging. Where do you start? How do you ensure you’re teaching in a way that can actually provide real-world application and safety in a fast-changing landscape? One of the best ways to approach online safety for students is to approach it with the goal of teaching concepts that can be applied now as well as against future threats.

3 Online Safety Concepts to Teach Students

Below are some key concepts that should be introduced to students. These concepts can be applied to current threats as well as being used to help identify and circumnavigate threats in the future.

1. The Basics of Online Safety

Even though online safety is a complex landscape, there are some basics that rarely change. For instance, students should learn:

  • Password safety: How to create complex passwords, how to keep these passwords private and how often to change them. 
  • Sensitive information: Students should also understand basics about when it is appropriate to share personal or sensitive information and when it is not. Discuss how information can be used maliciously, how to identify when it may be safe to provide online information (for instance, paying an online bill—but always being sure to double-check the url and security certificate first) and when it is not safe to do so (such as over social media or text).
  • Online relationships: With so many relationships beginning online, it’s important that students learn the types of threats that exist and how to best avoid them. Help your students define safety rules for online relationships, such as when it is or is not appropriate to meet up with someone in person that they met online, as well as how those rules might change when they become adults.
  • Online footprints: Apps, social media outlets and other online spaces may try to convince students that their information is “safe” or private. A great example is students believing that videos that disappear on Snapchat can never be retrieved. However, there is no such thing as “disappear” when it comes to computers. Screenshots, hackers and forensics experts can all be used to retrieve and share these private videos. If students only take away one thing about sharing information online, it should be that no photo, video, text, blog, forum entry, review or any other type of content can ever be permanently deleted or hidden—once it’s out there, there’s no way to fully or confidently take it back.

2. The Art of Being Dubious

One of the most important online safety skills students can learn is the art of being dubious. From phishing scams to nefarious relationships, misinformation to malicious attacks, the greatest online safety tool a student can learn is to be dubious. They should be taught to question information, requests, downloads and commands—taking extra time to validate these things can be the difference between putting themselves or others at risk and avoiding an attack.

Many scams play off feelings to create a sense of urgency that pushes an individual to provide sensitive information quickly—before the target can begin to second-guess the situation. Some good defenses against these types of attacks include:

  • Discussing different types of scams. Even though the most prevalent scams change with time, understanding different methods of attack and real-world examples can help students identify suspicious situations in the future.
  • Learning to stop and pause. If a student is feeling the need to urgently provide sensitive information, it’s typically a signal that they should slow down and investigate.
  • Creating an open dialogue. Students should feel safe and secure asking an adult for help, whether that’s a parent, teacher or other trusted individual. Discuss the prominence of these threats and address how fear or shame may be used to pressure students into making unsafe decisions.

3. Common Components of an Online Threat

Students should have a thorough understanding of the basic types of online threats and what to look for to identify them now and in the future. For instance, one of the most common online safety risks is phishing scams. Students should understand the complexity of these scams, knowing that they range from “overseas princes” to individuals spoofing the login page of a financial institution or social media site.

Discuss different places students may see digital threats, such as in emails or texts, phone calls or online pop-ups, and help them understand that information may be generic or very specifically tailored to them. Discuss how these threats will play off fear and shame to try to get them to make a decision quickly, and that if they’re feeling pressured to act fast, it’s a signal that they should probably slow down and ask for help. 

Final Thoughts 

You’ll never be able to predict every type of threat your students may face in the future but providing them with an understanding of the types of threats that exist today and how to identify them can help create a basis for identifying new threats in the future.

Would you like help teaching online safety to your students? Learning.com offers a comprehensive online safety course for students from kindergarten through 12th grade. Learn more about this online safety program or start a free demo today.