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Internet Safety: Protecting Our Kids

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Internet safety is obviously a major concern to all of us, particularly parents and educators. While it can be difficult to control all content our children have access to through the vast networks of technology available, there are a few things we can do to help protect our young people in this area.

Developing and Setting Guidelines

Students need to know what is and isn’t appropriate, and getting our children involved in helping create guidelines can be powerful. One valuable resource is Pernille Ripp’s “Why the Internet is Like the Mall: Discussing Online Safety with Students”. Here Ripp depicts exploring the Internet to visiting a mall without parent supervision, asking children how they stay safe while unsupervised at the mall. The hope is that they apply skills used in this highly-tangible activity to Internet safety.

Names

This is one of the most important items to consider. Should children use their full name, first name only, last initial, or create a username unrelated to their real name? Often, using a child’s first name combined with a combination of letters and/or numbers, such as david34 or joanj592, for a username is effective for providing something identifiable to those who need to know, but mostly anonymous to strangers.

Photos

Whether or not to use student photos, especially those linked with specific names, is an important consideration when blogging, sharing videos, or creating and publicizing Internet profiles in general. While the vast majority of visitors to student blogs and profiles are well-meaning, unfortunately those with less desirable objectives can also visit. In some cases the personal backgrounds of specific students might require more privacy and anonymity than others.

It is ultimately a parent decision regarding use of student images, names, or other readily-identifiable elements. While one of the most engaging and powerful aspects of student blogging, or any form of Internet-based learning can come from the pride of attaching one’s image or name, it can also be a risk. One effective compromise has been to use avatars to create fictional representations of student likenesses, using whatever artistic embellishments might be desired and appropriate.

Moving forward as concerned citizens in the world of Internet safety, we should engage in frequent discussion with not only our children, but also educators, parents, and policy makers to ensure we enable appropriate learning freedom in an intelligent, sensible, and safe environment. Please feel free to share your own strategies for Internet safety by e-mailing me at KWickersham@giftedstudy.org.

All the best,

Kevin Wickersham
Academic Director, Summer Institute for the Gifted (SIG)
National Society for the Gifted and Talented (NSGT)

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