Cyber Safety Conversations…when to begin

Yesterday and today and continuing next week I have been having conversations with the 3rd and 4th graders in our school about cyber saftey and cyber bullying. Our school counselors are talking about it as part of their month focus on personal safety and wellness. I was approached over a candle dinner last weekend by the elementary school counselor who wanted to know if I could find time in my busy schedule to have 30 minute conversations with her students as part of her weekly classroom meetings. After a bottle of wine and a deep conversation I agreed. (Full Disclosure: The Elementary Counselor is my wife :) )

I start off by asking a series of questions:

How many of you have a computer at home?

So far it’s been 100 percent with some kids actually laughing and saying “Who wouldn’t have a computer?”

How many of you get on the Internet?

The answers have ranged from daily to “Mom and Dad only let me get on during to the weekends.” to “My Mom only lets me on one time every month.”

Today my wife told the students that they will also have to help their parents be safe on the Internet. That their parents, and us (pointing to herself and me) grew up without the Internet. Can you imagine a time without the Internet?”

As my wife said this I focused in on one little 3rd grade girl who looked wide eyed at both my wife and I like she had just said something she had never considered life without the Internet.

Like one of my 7th graders said earlier this year. “What did you do?”

Most of the students have their own cell phones with all but one student in the class of 3rd graders today saying they have their own and they text message on it, but are only allowed to call after school or if it’s an emergency.

I’ve also had my eyes opened up this week to Club Penguin, which is the place to go if you are a 3rd or 4th grader. What I want to know is how are teachers preparing to teach students who in 3rd and 4th grade hang out in a place that:

“…is a kid-friendly virtual world where children can play games, have fun and interact with each other.”

A virtual world….in 3rd grade? Seriously, I’m not ready to be teaching these kids as middle schoolers if they are already getting use to a virtual world…I can hardly fly in Second Life.

The conversation has been great. The students have a lot of questions and even though they are in spaces like Club Penguin, I’m finding they really don’t grasp the whole ‘stranger danger’ thing. They understand not to talk to strangers in real life, but the computer is different. There is some virtual divide that students are having a hard time wrapping their heads around. It’s not just 3rd and 4th either. We’ve talked this whole school year about cyber safety in our tech classes in the middle school and just last week some student put their full name on their blog.

All of this has me thinking when do we need to start the cyber safety talks? When the kid gets his/her first PSP? After all it’s wireless and I saw 2nd graders playing it on the bus today. We need to rethink our safety talks…middle school is way to late to be having the conversations, yet they are important conversations to have. My wife covers cyber bullying with regular bullying and with 3rd graders text messaging each other on their cell phones…it’s probably a good idea.

Where do we start? What age, what grade, what materials?

Or am I just paranoid?

[tags]cyber saftey[/tags]

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2 Comments

  1. Jeff, I just came across this article in the NY Times Technology feed: link to nytimes.com
    I think 3rd graders need to have more of a 1st life than a 2nd life.

  2. Thanks Jim…great article. Wrote about it on U Tech Tips.

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