by Ali Hamilton
Born after the year 2000, generation Z is set to become the largest group in society before the end of 2019. Also known as digital natives, this is the first generation who will use the internet from cradle to grave. Soon enough, a third of our workforce will comprise these young, tech savvy employees. In the past, schools taught about wearing a helmet while cycling and not talking to the stranger who approaches you at the park. These days, there are new threats online. An important part of early years education must focus on teaching online safety. Current school students are set to be the most interconnected generation of all time. This offers incredible opportunities, but only if they are able to safely navigate the world wide web.
Spotting and Reporting Suspicious Accounts
Fake accounts are shockingly common online. In just six months, Facebook removed 1.2 billion fake user profiles. For the most part, these are bots making multiple accounts simultaneously. It is when a real individual makes a fake profile, that young children are most at risk. Since the anti-grooming legislation, which criminalises sexual online communication with a child, passed into UK law, there have been more than 3,000 recorded breaches a year. That is nine online grooming attempts made every single day, when only counting reported offences.
The majority of those targeted are females age 12-15, while a quarter are 11 or younger. This shows how crucial it is to teach about online safety while a child is still at primary school. The grooming process occurs much like it does offline, but with the perpetrator experiencing increased bravery because they feel safe behind a computer screen and a fake profile picture.
Although most of these illicit communications occur on Facebook and Instagram, which require users to be at least 13, more than half of all 12 year olds have created online accounts. Fortunately, kids have been shown to be much better at spotting fake news than adults, having good intuition about what is and is not real. Your main job as an educator is to help steer them away from communicating to strangers and ensure they understand how to report a fake account when they discover one.
Protecting Sensitive Data
Even the youngest internet user has online information that they need to keep private. More than 1 in 4 teenagers has received semi-nude or nude photos, while many more may have taken such photos on their smartphone. Keeping these out of the wrong hands should be a top priority. Using encryption software when online will give both parent and child peace of mind that very private files are kept just that. Teaching about these protective methods early will come in handy once a teenager opens their own bank account or starts making online payments.
Internet behaviour is just another aspect of teaching safety in this modern, interconnected world. The internet is an incredible resource that the youngest generation is incredibly lucky to have. Teaching them to use it responsibly in their early years will set them up for a safe and happy online experience.
Ali is a freelance writer
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