In this era of continuous digitalisation, we are witnessing an alarming increase in the threats young people might encounter online. And data from reports received by INHOPE member hotlines reveal a concerning trend. Sexual online content has become normalised and popular among teens with research indicating that many young people consider sexting and sharing nudes to be a natural part of their sexual development. While sexual exploration is a typical part of adolescence, many underestimate the potential impact it can have when this content is immortalised on the internet, or falls into the wrong hands. In addition to the consensual exchange of sexual content among teens, there are various other risks lingering online. Not being sufficiently informed on how to recognise risky situations can cause harm and create long-term consequences for young people.
To ensure that all children and young people can enjoy all the fun, exciting and social parts of the internet without putting themselves and others at risk, implementing digital literacy education in schools is essential.
The classroom as an equaliser
The classroom is where children of all kinds of financial, ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds come together. Their opportunities to learn about online safety and digital technology might vary greatly at home. But in school, children can all benefit from the same experience. The teacher can act as an equaliser of opportunity. By prioritising comprehensive and child-friendly conversations on digital literacy and online safety, teachers can ensure that all children in their classroom are equipped with the same knowledge to navigate the digital landscape safely.
The curriculum and resources schools can offer will vary significantly depending on the country, city and district in which they are located. But even in areas where resources are scarce, teachers have the power to include simple and regular conversations on online safety in the classroom. The start of a new school year is a great opportunity for teachers to set a new precedent for how digital safety and risks online are addressing in the classroom. Depending on the ages and development-level of their students, teachers should address essential topics like:
- What is sexting?
- What is self-generated content?
- What is NCII abuse?
- What is CSAM?
- What is cyberflashing?
- The stages of online grooming
- The impact of online grooming
- What is sextortion?
- What is financial sextortion?
Digital safety in conversation
The curriculum and resources schools can offer will vary significantly depending on the country, city and district in which they are located. But even in areas where time and money to implement a digital curriculum are scarce, teachers have the power to include simple and regular conversations on online safety in their routine. Depending on the ages and level of personal development of their students, teachers can address essential topics such as: boundaries and consent online, how and where to ask for help, internet privacy and protecting your identity online, online friends or strangers, respectful behaviour online, nudes and sexting, how to identify misinformation, and how to report harmful or illegal content encountered online.
Of course, as technology and platforms evolve rapidly, it can be difficult to stay up to date on these topics, and especially on the latest tools used by the kids in the classroom. Thankfully, there are many free online resources available that can help teachers to educate themselves and stay informed about these important subjects.
Resources for schools and teachers
But talking with children about these challenging subjects is easier said than done. Deciding which topics to address, how to address them and how to make these conversations engaging and interesting for students can be difficult. Recognising this challenge, INHOPE and our network of member hotlines, offer various useful resources for teachers that can help them to navigate these conversations.
- eSafety Commissioner's resources
The website of Australia’s INHOPE member hotline eSafety offers various resources for teachers, either to educate themselves or to use in their classroom to create engaging lessons on digital safety for their students. Visit their website to find professional learning programs for teachers, toolkits for schools, and engaging material for young people of all ages, including short films, quizzes, posters for the classroom, and much more.
- Telefono Azzurro’s course for secondary school teachers
The Italian hotline Telefono Azzurro has published a course for secondary school teachers. The resource will address themes like the use of the internet and social media by young people, online safety, the risks adolescents face online, and the potential consequences these can have on their mental health. The course consists of video lectures by academics and experts and comprehensive downloadable materials.
- ECPAT Sweden resources
The Swedish hotline ECPAT Sveringe, has created compressive resources that can help adults to have age-appropriate conversations with children of different age groups. Their website offers material for the age ranges 0-6, 7-10, 11-13, and 14-17. This way, teachers can introduce challenging topics even to the youngest children.
- Point de Contact resources
Our French member hotline Point de Contact has published various accessible resources, that can be used by teachers to introduce difficult subjects in an engaging way to to their students. They utilise different formats like videos or comics to facilitate age-appropriate learning experiences. Their comic strip “A picture of Lou has been taken without her consent/Lou es prise en photo à son insu” showcases how a harassment situation can develop quickly and cause harsh psychological consequences to the victims.
Children spend their most formative years in the classroom. And while circumstances at home will differ widely for each child, the role of school, teachers and educators in empowering young people to be positive and responsible digital citizens should not be underestimated. For more information on how you can support, protect and prepare kids in your classroom to be safe online, visit the BIK Teacher corner.