Random Thoughts

Parents are over-confident about Internet Safety

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This article from The Guardian has been sitting in my inbox now for about a month. Waiting mostly for me to calm down so I can write about this halfway intelligently.

Let’s start with this:

Andy Phippen, professor of social responsibility at Plymouth University, said sexting – where schoolchildren are encouraged to take explicit photographs of themselves and send to other pupils – was a problem in most schools, despite the study revealing that 89% of parents believe their child has not been touched by cyberbullying or sexting.

“There is a disconnect between how safe parents think they can keep their children online and their actual ability to do that,” Phippen said. “Those conversations are not being had – we have a hell of a long way to go on internet safety. In schools we hear teachers unwilling to talk to teenagers about sexual images because they worry about their jobs, schools unwilling to record instances of cyberbulling because they are worried about their Ofsted reports.”

Now add this:

AVG security expert Tony Anscombe said half of the parents consider a school’s internet safety policy when making their selection, and 95% thought online safety should be mandatory in schools. “We know parents take responsibility of online safety seriously […] yet we’re not living up to the standards we’re setting by avoiding conversations about exposure to explicit adult content, privacy or other Internet-related threats,” he said. “It comes as no surprise then that nearly 90% of parents aren’t aware of whether their child has been exposed to cyberbullying or sexting – two of the most common internet risks facing children.”

So where do we go from here? Well it should start with conversations both at home and at school. However, conversations at school are hard when the sites that we need to have the conversations about are blocked and do not allow us to teach about them. When we don’t face websites like Facebook head on, we allow them to become places of Cyberbullying. You want to help decrease cyberbullying on Facebook? UNBLOCK it! Not one school that I have talked to has said that cyberbullying has increased once Facebook was unblocked. Instead cyberbullying decreases because:

  1. We have shined a light on the dark corner
  2. We can now talk about it in school
  3. We can use it and show students how powerful of a tool it can be as well as how dangerous it can be
Photo Credit: Joybot via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Joybot via Compfight cc

Two of the most common internet risks facing children are sexting and cyberbullying. Not predators on the Internet. By blocking sites, we are not keeping our students safe, we are giving them a place to hide. The online predator thing was and has continued to be an overblown idea since 2009 with this report (NYTimes article worth a read).

Yet when schools tell me “we need to keep kids safe” they more often than not are talking about online predators when really we should be talking about keeping kids safe from kids. That we can do by educating, but we can only educate if we are given the tools to educate with. Which means unblocking social-networking site and teaching students how to use them propertly.

Let’s start by giving every student a public blog in say 3rd grade and then teach them what it means to be in public. Who can access it? Where does the content go? How does this all work becuase class after class that I visit from 4th grade through seniors in high school have no idea where their content goes when they click “Publish”.

The survey of 2,000 parents carried out by AVG technologies and Plymouth University found 92% were confident about their ability to teach online safety. “People tend to think they are protected in some way, that there are parental fixes in place – but that is not always the case,” said Phippen.

Let’s get over this idea of “protection”. The best way to be protected is to be educated. The best way to educate is to be in these spaces, understand them, learn how to use them, with an adult. Sure at my last school we had students misuse their blogs, but it led to a conversation to help that student understand. I would much rather have a conversation about how to use these sites properly in 4th grade before habits are set and they mess up their careers later in life. We’re so worried about protecting that we are not educating.

The only way we are going to help solve this issue is through education. By unblocking sites we not only actually help educators do this, but we open up amazing learning opportunities at the same time. It’s a win – win situation for everyone.

I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. Hey Jeff,

    I am not arguing with starting blogs at grade 3, but wondering why you chose to say that is the age they should start? Have you heard of schools starting earlier? On another note, what, in your opinion would be the best blogging platform to start them out on in grade 3?

    Great article once again.

    • Jeff Utecht Reply

      Hi Tom,

      Yes, at my last school we started blogging with 3rd graders and built on it from there. Here’s a teacher’s blog with the student blogs down the right hand side. http://inside.isb.ac.th/pdobrowski/ public, with pictures of students on them, and first name.

      Not only did we use them to have student reflect on their learning but as a way to start teaching digital citizenship.

      I would start with something WordPress as WordPress now makes up 19% of all websites on the Internet. So at the same time we’re giving students experience with a web platform that is becoming standard on the web.

  2. Lauren Teather Reply

    Awesome post Jeff!! I am baffled by teachers and administrators who think that students should not be sharing their work publicly. This is such an important topic for our students today – as they will face so many challenges in their lives about this. It’s definitely our job now to educate them and give them a safe space to do it in.

  3. Your comments are right on the money. With regard to Facebook, other social networking tools (i.e. Schoology) can provide a platform for social network experiences yet maintain them behind a walled garden. As students become familiar with best practices–and stumble a bit along the way–they do so in a lower stakes environment that is transparent. Though many likely are engaged in other online activities (hey, school is not the end all/be all), they have a supportive learning environment. As for blogs, what a perfect fit for authentic writing experiences and learning the value of well constructed communications. The feedback students receive from outside of the classroom offers a truer feedback loop than any that can be constructed in a controlled environment.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  4. YES. Yes yes yes. As for why to start blogging in 3rd grade, I would say you CAN start earlier, but I’ve seen 3rd grade as a good developmental stage to allow students to go beyond username and password in a more protected and limited space (only the school network, for example) and expand it to include, say, e-mail and Google Apps, among other things.

    I taught grades 1-8 technology in a lab setting for six years at my previous school, and though I am in the high school now, I work at a K-12 where the lower school also starts their e-mail and Google Apps in 3rd grade. This wasn’t a result of anything I’d said or done. It just happens that a lot of educators and schools see that as a good developmental jumping off point for usernames and passwords that take you “out there” — assuming they’re letting kids “out there” at all.

    Jeff, I couldn’t agree with you more on shining the light on dark corners to see that the only thing hiding there most of the time is other kids. There will always be spaces kids are in that we don’t frequent or maybe even know about. But by going in to the places we DO know about and CAN use in school, we eliminate the “out there” versus “in here” mentality we’ve bred into our kids with our inane policies the past decade or so. (The “we” and “our” here refers to education on the whole.)

    At my school, we don’t block much, especially at the high school level. Sometimes we get parents asking us to block gaming sites and even sites ABOUT gaming. No, thank you. Part of their education is learning how to manage their time and say no to distractions and temptations. And at my highly-competitive school, these kids need to just blow off some steam during their free periods once in a while.

  5. Jenni (@jennivanrees) Reply

    Why wait until Grade 3 to start? I have my Grade 1’s in September start blogging! There are some great blogging platforms (i.e., Kidblog) that are kid friendly and also allow teachers to moderate what gets posted. We talk about being good digital citizens and how to stay safe throughout the year. We have great conversations with 6 and 7 year olds! Start young and teach them how to properly handle themselves on the Internet, that way they’ll have more of a foundation of what’s acceptable when they get into Facebook and texting as they get older.

    Great post! Thanks for your thoughts. They need to heard.

    • Jeff Utecht Reply

      Hi Jenni,

      I have no problem starting younger…the younger the better in my book. My thought is by grade 3 every students should have a blog. If we start before that even better.

  6. Yes! I love it Jeff. My scattered thoughts:

    I do understand where parents are coming from. As a parent myself, when it comes to my OWN child’s safety, I can get a bit irrational and blinded by the simple desire to keep them safe. That’s why I followed my children from a distance the first time I allowed them to walk by themselves into town to the candy store. I know it is not rational but I needed to do that. Now they go on their own and I shake my head at my past self.

    That being said, it IS irrational and the fear is hugely overblown. What parents need are other adults, often parents themselves, that they trust to guide them through this very unfamiliar world of online-living, exploring and parenting.

    I like the workshop analogy. You wouldn’t teach students about woodworking with plastic tools just so they don’t cut themselves. You’d have them work with a real hammer and saw even though the risks are there.

    As an aside, I taught second grade a couple years ago and had them all make blogs. We buddied up with a fifth grade class and, by the end of the year, each child had an e-portfolio (Blogger) they could independently post to. These were totally public. This brought up many amazing conversations:

    “She copied me.” (copyright)
    “What he said about my picture wasn’t nice.” (a positive online presence)
    “I don’t know who this is that commented.” (online safety)

    Any kid interacting with a screen is ready for these conversations.

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  8. Hi Jeff,

    My main purpose for writing is that this is my first blog post ever (talk about starting late in life :-))! I am taking a graduate course on technology in the classroom and the first assignment is to create my own blog. Before doing so, I am reading some other blogs and posting to them. Thank you for the opportunity to do so here.

    With respect to your post, I happen to agree with you. I think we should start the kiddos as early as possible. So much of what we do is to prepare children for the “real world”. Why wouldn’t we want to expose them to opportunities to learn real-time so to speak?

    Thank you again,

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