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How-To Guide for Teachers and Parents on Discussing Cyberethics with Students

As smart devices and internet access become commonplace, the threat of cyberbullying and cybersecurity issues become more and more real for our youth. According to Tech Jury, only 38% of cyberbullying victims ever come forward to their parents. And, sadly, 21% of high-school bullying happens based on skin color.

According to this research from The Guardian, 39% of children say they couldn’t live without their phones, with 57% sleeping with smartphones by their beds. These devices have become closely linked to the way they live. Can we really blame children and young adults for misusing social media without properly teaching them about cyberethics? How can you communicate cyberethics concepts in a way that will help them grasp how to use the web properly? Let’s take a closer look at that, as well as the benefits of doing so in 2021.

Start by Tackling Social Media Platforms and their Role in our Society

First off, it is crucial not to belittle digital technologies in any way. This can only have the opposite effect upon young minds, especially when your goal is to teach them about the ethics of using digital resources. The most popular and well-known source of both positive and negative examples of cyberethics can be found on social media platforms, so start there.

It is deceptively easy to create an account on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter and start sharing sensitive information with strangers. Use the opportunity to sit down with your students or children and show how you yourself use these platforms. Teaching through examples is an amazing way for students to grasp real-world concepts and understand what you are trying to communicate. Rely on a “Show Don’t Tell” approach and discuss what the good and bad effects of using social media platforms are for students.

Introduce the Concept of Cyberbullying and its Ramifications

While it may not seem like it from the perspective of an older teacher or parent, cyberbullying can be just as bad, or worse, than physical bullying. In fact, it is often perceived as worse than physical bullying, given that young students have a “reputation to maintain” among their peers. This makes it crucial for you to tackle the idea of cyberbullying shortly after covering social media since the two go hand in hand. You can introduce a course on cyberethics, which will help your students become familiar with the concepts of digital reputation and positive online communication. This can lead to your own presentation or discussion on cyberbullying, where you can talk about what your student or child learned from the course.

Don’t be afraid to use real-world examples of bullying and how it impacted the students on both sides of the conflict – no one wins here. Instead, try to communicate that telling someone bad words on the web has the same effect as saying those words in person. It causes negative emotions, long-term trauma, and unlike physical bullying, cyberbullying is often stored in chat logs and messages for a very long time.

Discuss the Power of Words and the Feelings They can invoke

The younger your students or children are, the less likely they are to understand what “good” or “bad” words are. Combined with access to social media or online video games, this can quickly lead to unpleasant situations for your child. This can be softened by introducing essays and written exercises on the power of words and the emotional impact that follows them. You can rely on a writing platform such as Subjecto to introduce new words, phrases, and their effects on others to your students.

Start with simple concepts such as “love” and “hate” and move on to more practical examples found on social media. Forbes published an article by Professor Evan Gerstmann recently, who discussed the ramifications of cancel culture in today’s online media. A single mistyped word or miscommunicated concept can lead to online hate, bullying, and even student doxing or disclosure of private ID and residence information.

Cover DIY Cybersecurity Basics

There is a lot that youth can do to keep their identities and devices safe from malicious websites or social hacking. You should use the opportunity to teach your students and children about how to maintain anonymity on the web. For starters, tackle the concept of antivirus software and how it can help keep their devices free of viruses and unwanted data. You should use conversational wording and keep any complex terminology outside the discussion to make sure everyone understands. Next, discuss how their passwords should always be words or combinations of letters which only they know about. You can write a simple example of a “complex” password on the chalkboard to explain this. Phishing, as well as scam emails and messages, should also be covered so that students are better at identifying them. It takes a second for a student (or even an adult) to click on a malicious link, which could cause major security issues for them. Since your students are still in the safety of their homes and school, this creates an opportunity for you to teach them about cybersecurity properly.

Create a Cyberethics Discussion Environment with Your Students

Finally, it’s important to note that you shouldn’t “preach” cyberethics to your students or children. They are already using smartphone devices and social media in ways in which we wouldn’t have thought of. As such, you should involve them in the conversation about cyberethics and digital communication in order to arrive at the right solutions together.

Create a discussion about different topics related to cybersecurity, cyberbullying, and the ethics of using online apps to message friends and family. Ask them the right questions and spark a roundtable discussion in which you can act as a moderator, pitching in with your own insight. The best outcome is for you to guide students into coming up with their own conclusions on what’s right or wrong. Do that, and they will walk away with a practical, lifelong understanding of the ways in which the internet can help them become better people.

The Benefits of Teaching Cyberethics to Students at a Young Age

Teaching cyberethics is not an easy task. It is a multilayered process which you should tackle over the course of several years in the case of K-12 students. You can also rely on a professionally curated digital citizenship course to help your students navigate the tech-based world they find themselves in. This, of course, would allow students to learn about cyberethics and digital safety conduct through practical learning and with established experts’ insight.

Then, you can look forward to some changes in their online behavior:

  • More productive and creative use of smart devices and online resources

  • Independent differentiation between safe and unsafe resources and materials

  • Better grasp of cyber communication and more empathic treatment of others

  • Higher alertness in regards to sharing sensitive information with strangers online

  • Smoother transition into high school and university fields related to IT and digital tech

Conclusion: The Guiding Hand of Cyberethics

Cyberethics is a complex topic with a variety of paths when it comes to communicating its concepts to young adults. The most important takeaway is to make sure that your students understand that there are people like themselves on the other end of the device. Anything they say or post online will affect others, positively or negatively. Make that the focus of your cyberethics education and your students will be able to grasp more complex concepts of digital literacy and conduct.

About the Author

Kristin Savage nourishes, sparks, and empowers using the magic of a word. Along with pursuing her degree in Creative Writing, Kristin was gaining experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in marketing strategy for publishers and authors. Besides working as a freelance writer, Kristin works as an editor at Subjecto, a free source of flashcards and essay samples. In her free time, she likes to travel and explore new countries around the world.


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