New research reveals a need for consistent education about digital safety for elementary school students, school staff, and parents.

The work addresses concerns raised by teachers about cyberbullying, students accessing inappropriate content online, and other issues.

Researchers based their findings on interviews with 10 elementary school teachers. Drawing from concerns raised in the study, the researchers developed a digital safety summer camp for students and lesson plan on the topic.

“All the kids have gadgets these days—from phones to laptops to desktop computers, and there are many ways to get online,” says Florence Martin, professor of learning, design, and technology at North Carolina State University and lead author of the paper in the journal TechTrends.

“Education on digital safety really makes a difference, but it has to be ongoing and it has to be reinforced, not only for the kids, but also for teachers and parents.”

The researchers identified five general areas of concern for digital safety from the teacher interviews—concerns based on teachers’ observations in classrooms, as well as virtually when coursework was shifted online during the COVID-19 pandemic. The concerns were related to content students accessed online; their online conduct; contact with others online; “contract”-related issues with privacy; and issues with home use.

In terms of concerns about the type of content students were accessing online, teachers reported elementary students attempting to access or searching for inappropriate content such as pornographic material or gambling websites.

“I was very surprised—you might think this problem would come up later since these are teachers of elementary school kids,” Martin says.

In terms of contact, teachers had concerns about students contacting strangers and giving away personal information without understanding the risks.

Concerns about students’ online conduct, or behavior, included cyberbullying and sharing inappropriate information. Examples included students using private message functions or social media to pick on each other, or finding ways to send cuss words to other students without the teacher seeing. They also saw that students did not understand their online behavior was trackable.

“They think they can say or do whatever online, and it will be forgotten,” Martin says. “Online, you leave a footprint. They don’t understand that.”

They also found what they called “contract-related” concerns, with students not understanding basic security online, such as the importance of not sharing passwords.

Lastly, teachers had home-related concerns for students’ online activity, including concerns about a lack of routine or monitoring of online activity at home, and behavior from home bleeding into the school day.

Read the full article about kids' online safety by Laura Oleniacz at Futurity.