What Do They Need to Know About Cyber Safety?

Each school year in celebration of October’s Computer Learning Month, we focus on Cyber Safety and Ethics Awareness issues at our school, Deer Park Elementary. This paper outlines our cyber safety and ethics initiatives, and addresses what we have learned about what our students know and what they need to know in order to be safe when using the Internet.

Before beginning this year’s initiatives, we wanted to determine students’ understandings about cyber safety and ethics. We began by giving a survey to our 205 third— and fourth-grade students. This Cyber Awareness survey asked the students if they had been given cyber safety lessons at school before. We were expecting that most of the 101 third grade children would respond “no†since the year before we had not given “formal†cyber safety lessons to our second grade students. We were expecting the majority of the 104 fourth grade students to indicate “yes†since our cyber safety lessons were given to students in grades three through six the year before during October 2002’s Computer Learning Month initiatives. The responses to the first question reflected what we expected are in Table 1.

Students Having Cyber Safety Lessons Prior to 2003 Cyber Initiatives

QuestionGrade ThreeGrade FourHave you ever had a computer safety lesson at school before?28% said Yes80% said Yes

Next we wanted to find out how many students have a computer at home with Internet access and if they need to ask their parents‘ permission before using it. This information would tell us how many students have access to the Internet outside school.

Students Having Internet Access Outside School


Grade Three

Grade Four

Do you have a computer that you can use at home to surf the Internet?

90% said Yes

92% said Yes

Can you use this computer without first asking your parents’ permission?

39% said Yes

43% said Yes

We found that the majority of third and fourth grade students at our school own a computer with Internet access at home, but only 39% of the third graders and 43% of the fourth graders are required to ask their parents‘ permission before using their home computer. When we talked with the students about this type of access, most indicated they could use the computer whenever they wanted and only a few said their parents used parental controls to determine how they could use the computer and the Internet.

Then we wanted to find out if their home computer is in a highly visible location in the home, allowing better parent supervision than if placed in a private room such as a bedroom. Table 3 tells where the home computers are located.

Home Computer Locations


Child’s Bedroom

High traffic area like the livingroom or family room

In an older sibling’s bedroom

Other Location

Where is your home computer located?

Grade three students— 39%
Grade four students— 17%

Grade three students— 9%
Grade four students— 29%

Grade three students— 24%
Grade four students— 5%

Grade three students— 12%
Grade four students— 65%

These results show that the majority of grade three students have computers either in their bedrooms or in an older sibling’s bedroom. Only 9% of the third grade students have the computer in a high traffic area. 29% of the grade four students have computers in high traffic areas and 22% have the computer in their bedrooms or a sibling’s bedroom. However, the majority of fourth graders indicated the computer is in another location. When we asked the students where that “other†location may be, most indicated that the family owned laptops and the laptops can be used in any number of locations. Some said the desktop computer was in a parent’s bedroom or home office location. Presumably then, many of the laptops with Internet access would be using a wireless connection.

The next set of questions dealt with students having their own Email accounts and whether or not they engaged in Instant Message (IM) and chat room experiences. Table 4 tells which children have Email, engage in chat room activities and send and/or receive Instant Messages (IM).

Email, Chat Room and IM Behaviors


Grade Three

Grade Four

Do you have your own Email account that you use?

29% = yes

38% = yes

Do you ever use chat rooms?

13%= yes

14%= yes

Do you ever IM people?



These results appear to show that by third and fourth grade, one-third of the students have their own Email accounts. In grades three and four, less than 15% of the students said they go into chat rooms, but by fourth grade, just about one fourth of the students said they engage in Instant Message experiences.

Next we asked the students to indicate if they talk about Internet safety issues with their parents. Only 39% of grade three students said they do, but 63% of the fourth grade students responded that they discuss cyber safety issues at home.

What do these results mean in terms of computer exposure and use for our students outside of school? The majority of grade three and four students in our school have Internet access at home. Therefore monitoring students’ access to the Internet from a safety point of view is a concern. There appears to be a big jump between third and fourth grade in terms of students discussing cyber safety issues at home. This may be because when we have taught the lessons, we have asked the students to share the information with their parents. Last year’s third graders were asked to share this information and now that they are fourth graders, 63% indicated that they have done so. In order to increase these discussions, we wrote a series of articles outlining what we were teaching and published those articles in our school newspaper, The Deer Tracks, during the month of October 2003. We also obtained information from AOL/Child Help USA on safety tips for parents and handed it out at Back to School Night to introduce what we would be teaching their children.

Our survey then asked the students to choose a “best response†to safety tips questions. We had previewed the Safety Clicks movie produced by ChildHelp USA, National School Board Foundation and AOL to determine which points would be made in the presentation. The questions we asked were based on the movie safety tips.

Question 1: If you are using your computer and someone you don’t know asks for your real name and address, what should you do? They were given these choices:

Of the 101 third grade students, 82% answered correctly that they would not give them the personal information because they are strangers. 94% of the 104 fourth graders also responded correctly. Incorrect responses tended to be “Ask them who they are first and then give it to them.â€

Question 2: If someone you don’t know asks for your real name and address, whom should you tell?

95% third grade students and 87.5% fourth grade students answered correctly that they would tell their parents that a stranger was asking for personal information. Incorrect responses generally were that they would not tell anyone they had been asked for personal information.

Question 3: With whom should you share your password?

88% of the third grade students and 94% of the fourth grade students answered that they would tell only their parents. Most incorrect responses were that they would tell only their best friends.

Question 4: If someone you meet online suggests that you should meet them in person, what should you do?

95% of both the third grade students and fourth grade students answered correctly that they would notify their parents. Those who answered incorrectly said they would tell their best friends. We pointed out to the children that telling best friends personal passwords may be a problem because best friends of today may not be best friends in the future and they may not be trusted to keep passwords safe. Telling best friends that strangers want to meet them was also a concern. We pointed out to the students that adults such as parents and teachers are trusted adults who help to keep children safe. These trusted adults can also notify law enforcement officials.

Question 5: To whom can you send an online photo of yourself?

96 % of the third grade students and 99% of the fourth grade students correctly said they would send photos of themselves only to friends or family members.

Question 6: If a person is using bad language or telling people hateful things in a chat room, what should you do?

94% of the third grade students and 93% of the fourth grade students answered correctly that they would leave the chat room and tell a parent or adult. If they answered incorrectly, the usual response was “tell them to stop using such bad language.â€

Question 7: If a person sends you an email or Instant Message with really bad language, what should you do?

This question had the lowest correct responses in both grade levels. Only 68% of the third grade students and 83% of the fourth grade students responded correctly, which is that they would save the message and tell their parents. Most said they would reply and tell the person to stop using such bad language.

Question 8: If someone you don’t know Emails you a really cool game to download, what should you do?

84% of the third grade students and 94% of the fourth grade students correctly said they would not download the game because it may be too dangerous. They seemed to know about viruses that may cause damage to hard drives. If they gave an incorrect response, it was to say they would Email the person and ask who they are and why they were sending the game.

Question 9: If somebody you don’t know sends you an Email, should you open it?

95% of the third grade students and 98% of the fourth grade students correctly said they would not open an Email from a stranger.

Question 10: If a person says things online that make you feel uncomfortable, what should you do?

91% of the third grade students and 94% of the fourth grade students correctly said they would not reply to that person and they would tell their parents. Most incorrect responses indicated that they would reply to the person and tell him/her to stop using such language.

Overall we found it very heartening that our students generally made wise and safe choices. They seemed to know that they should not give personal information to strangers, even online. There was a surprisingly high number of Email-using students who know not to open Email from strangers or download games or other attachments from people they do not know. Based on our follow-up questions with the students, those are the main issues parents stress at home. The greatest area of concern was with students feeling they can handle uncomfortable situations by either just ignoring negative messages from people, or exchanging dialog with those people, telling them to stop. We feel students at their age should be letting their parents know if people online are making them feel unsafe or uncomfortable and letting their parents handle the situation. We talked about how their parents can let their Internet Service Provider (ISP) know that such messages are reaching their children.

The other area of concern is the relatively free manner children have to use the computer without direct adult supervision at home. We talked about how important it is to use computers, such as laptops, in areas where their parents can keep and eye on things to help keep them safe. We stressed how important it is for parents to know what their children are doing just in case they come upon a link that will download a file or an image that may download a virus, or come upon something intended for adult eyes only.

Follow-up to the Lessons

A week after the Safety Clicks lesson, we began a series of three cyber safety lessons using Disney’s Cyber Comix Episodes on the Disney.com Web site. The lessons focused on the dangers of accepting Email with attachments from strangers, the dangers of accessing chat rooms, and on cyber “netiquette,†which means practicing polite behavior when corresponding in cyber space. It discussed behaviors such as sending flaming messages, spamming, shouting (typing in all caps when Emailing people) and keeping personal information private. These lessons were given to all third and fourth grade students once a week for 45 minute sessions during the remaining three weeks in October. All third grade students were also given a lesson, E—Man Saves Email written by my friend, Jean Yzer, and they took an E—man pledge to follow the lesson’s cyber safety rules. The fourth graders had the lesson the year before but we did discuss the pledge as a reminder of the pledge safety points.

To determine what safety tips the students thought were most important, we asked one class of fourth grade students and three classes of third grade students to create their own digital “cartoon†images with their own safety tip messages. It was not hard to get the children to recall the cyber safety tips we had been addressing the entire month of October. Children were eager to share ideas for their cartoons and written explanations. Using AppleWorks PAINT, we converted the images to GIF’s so they could be posted to our school’s Web page.

The images were most telling in terms of the children’s understandings of the issues:

The image on the left conveys the message that parents need to know what their children are doing. The image on the right alludes to the dangers of corresponding with virtual strangers in chat rooms.

These cartoons and the written explanations that go with the cartoons can be found on Deer Park Elementary’s “Third Grade Cyber Safety Cartoons†and on “Learn to be Safe in Cyber Space†Web sites.

In addition to the cartoon response activity, we asked 102 fourth grade students to write a letter to a special someone in their lives sharing with that person three or four cyber safety tips they should know and follow. The letters were analyzed by coding the tips and then categorized and grouped according to themes. There appeared to be thirteen different categories grouped into four theme areas. The theme areas were: 1) Email from strangers; 2) Dangers of Chat Rooms; 3) Cyber Etiquette Behaviors; and 4) Copyright and Fair Use Issues. Table 5 indicates the types of points made by the students, and the number and the percentage of those responses that fell in the theme area “Dangers of Accepting Email from Strangers.â€

Dangers of Accepting Email from Strangers

Don't accept or reply to Email from strangers

Don't download or open Email or attachments such as games from strangers

Delete unknown Email or attachments

Don't forward chain mail or messages from strangers

Don't give personal information to strangers

Mentions viruses from downloads that can harm computers

Gr. 4

30 students

76 students

3 students

16 students

53 students

42 students








As noted by the percentage of responses, just over half of fourth grade students mentioned not giving personal information to strangers as one of their most important cyber safety tips. About one third of the students mentioned the importance of not downloading attachments such as games from people you do not know, but only 3% specifically mentioned deleting those unknown Emails and attachments. 41% of those students also specifically mentioned that attachments can contain viruses that may harm computers. When asked to talk about their letters, many students mentioned that dangers of obtaining viruses from downloads was something their parents stress with them at home.

The second theme category was “Dangers of Chat Rooms.†These responses were not mentioned as frequently as other responses in other theme areas, but that is not surprising since only 14% of the fourth graders mentioned using chat rooms in the initial surveys that we gave at the beginning of October. Table 6 shows the different categories that were mentioned, the number and percentage of students mentioning those cyber tips.

Dangers of Chat Rooms

Stay out of chat rooms/ or ask parents if you can go into a chat room

If in a chat room and someone asks to meet you, say no

Never send a digital photo of self to strangers

Tell Mom and Dad if you are contacted by

Gr. 4

40 students

10 students

5 students

3 students %





Just over a third of the students mentioned staying out of chat rooms, or at least asking permission from parents to use a chat room a priority safety tip. 13% mentioned the importance of telling parents if contacted by strangers while in a chat room talking with friends. Few students (10%) mentioned saying no to strangers if they ask to meet and only 5% of the students mentioned never sending or posting photos of themselves so strangers will have that kind of personal information.

The third theme area was “Netiquette.†We consider this part of cyber safety since demonstrating polite behavior is also playing it safe. Sending spam (unsolicited Emails for advertising purposes) or flaming messages (harmful and hateful messages), chain mail and other annoying and menacing Internet behaviors such as typing all in caps which means shouting at people can lead to a whole host of problems.

Two categories fell into this theme area and they are shown in Table 7.

Etiquette Behaviors

Importance of communicating politely (no shouting or sending chain mail)

Flaming (sending harmful or hateful messages)

Gr. 4

45 students

16 students %



Not quite half the students mentioned how important it is to be polite when communicating on the Internet. Apparently by their responses in their letters and the oral discussions we had when reviewing the letters, students understand the importance of using the Internet wisely and not in a harmful manner.

The final and last theme was copyright and fair use. We spent little time with this topic with the students in grades three and four but placed a greater emphasis on it with fifth and sixth graders, and that will be discussed in a separate paper. However, four students (4%) did mention the importance of not “stealing†intellectual property (images, text) from Web sources.

Safety Clicks Assembly

The culminating activity for Computer Learning Month was a "Safety Clicks†program that teaches children how to use the Internet to research information, communicate with others and learn from interactive sites while avoiding the dangers and hazards that an online medium can often pose for young people.

To ensure that children throughout the Washington, DC, metropolitan area benefit from the Safety Clicks! initiative, AOL has partnered with Childhelp USA/Virginia, a leader in the field of child abuse education programs, to bring this important information to schools. ChildHelp USA's Children's Center of Virginia brought the Safety Bot robot to visit Deer Park School as part of the national Safety Clicks campaign. In the first assembly for our young children, the robot showed children a cartoon movie and hosted several "game shows" to emphasize six online safety tips for children:

  • Never give out your name, home address, age, phone number or school name— or any personal information— to strangers online.
  • Don't give out your password to anyone, either online or offline.
  • Never agree to meet an online friend in person without one of your parents.
  • Don't Email pictures of yourself to strangers online.
  • Never accept things from strangers online, such as Emails, files, pictures, or Web links.
  • If someone says or does something online that makes you feel unsafe or uncomfortable, tell an adult right away.

The second assembly was geared for the older children and also included safety tips, but it included Cyber Ethics (honoring copyright laws and fair use policies). As a wrap—up to the assembly, students were given literature to take home as safety tip reminders. The literature also lists the following safety tips for parents:

  • Use the Internet with your child. Be involved at all times in your child's online activities— talk to them about online safety.
  • Learn about and use Parental Controls, and set 'ground rules' for online behavior.
  • Know at all times who your child is talking to online, and what Web sites they visit.
  • Put your child's computer in a 'family' area of the house, never in the child's room.
  • Be sure to report offensive conduct or material to your Internet Service Provider. If it is threatening, report it to your local law enforcement.

Teach your child never to plan a face-to-face meeting with online friends, and to tell you if they are asked to meet someone offline.

When asked what they thought of this assembly, students wrote in morning messages and homework responses some of the following comments:

  • From Mrs. Tyler-Smith's gr. 5 class— "I'm glad that people continue to remind us about Cyber Safety. Sometimes we forget. It was good!"
  • Alex in gr. 2 wrote— "I learned about safety today and just to tell you, don't talk to strangers on the Internet."
  • Richard in gr. 2 wrote— "If a stranger says something that makes you feel unsafe or uncomfortable, tell an adult."
  • Erin in gr. 2 wrote— "At the assembly today I learned that you don't tell anyone your address or phone number. Do not tell them the password for your computer."