Each school year in celebration of Octoberâ€™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 yearâ€™s initiatives, we wanted to determine studentsâ€™ 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 â€œnoâ€ since the year before we had not given â€œformalâ€ cyber safety lessons to our second grade students. We were expecting the majority of the 104 fourth grade students to indicate â€œyesâ€ since our cyber safety lessons were given to students in grades three through six the year before during October 2002â€™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 parentsâ€˜ 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
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 parentsâ€™ 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 parentsâ€˜ 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
High traffic area like the livingroom or family room
In an older siblingâ€™s bedroom
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 siblingâ€™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 siblingâ€™s bedroom. However, the majority of fourth graders indicated the computer is in another location. When we asked the students where that â€œotherâ€ 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 parentâ€™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
Do you have your own Email account that you use?
29% = yes
38% = yes
Do you ever use chat rooms?
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 studentsâ€™ 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 yearâ€™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 â€œbest responseâ€ 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 donâ€™t know asks for your real name and address, what should you do? They were given these choices:
- a.Give it to them, they probably just want to hang out.
b.Donâ€™t give it to them, you never know who they really are.
c.Ask them who they are first and then give it to them.
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 â€œAsk them who they are first and then give it to them.â€
Question 2: If someone you donâ€™t know asks for your real name and address, whom should you tell?
- a.Your best friend
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?
- a.Your best friend
b.Anybody who asks for it
c.Nobody except your parents
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?
- a.Donâ€™t tell anyone, but make sure you meet in a public place for safety
b.Tell your best friend you are planning to meet this person in case something happens
c.Be sure to tell your parents if a stranger asks to meet you
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?
- a.Friends and family members
b.New people you might meet online
c.Anyone who asks for it
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?
- a.Ignore them and keep chatting.
b.Tell them to stop using such bad language.
c.Leave the chat room and tell a parent or another adult.
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 â€œtell 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?
- a.Reply and tell them to stop using that language.
b.Ignore them and hope they leave you alone.
c.Save the Email or Instant Message and give it to your parents.
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 donâ€™t know Emails you a really cool game to download, what should you do?
- a.Download and start the game, it might be really cool!
b.Send an Email back and ask them who they are and why they are sending it to you.
c.Donâ€™t download the game, it might be dangerous.
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 donâ€™t know sends you an Email, should you open it?
- a.Sure, what can it hurt to open an Email?
b.No, donâ€™t open it. You donâ€™t know that person.
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?
- a.Reply and tell them to stop using that language.
b.Ignore them and hope they go away.
c.Donâ€™t talk with that person and tell your parents.
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 Disneyâ€™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 â€œnetiquette,â€ 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 lessonâ€™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 â€œcartoonâ€ 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 GIFâ€™s so they could be posted to our schoolâ€™s Web page.
The images were most telling in terms of the childrenâ€™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 Elementaryâ€™s â€œThird Grade Cyber Safety Cartoonsâ€ and on â€œLearn to be Safe in Cyber Spaceâ€ 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 â€œDangers 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
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 â€œDangers of Chat Rooms.â€ 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
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 â€œNetiquette.â€ 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.
Importance of communicating politely (no shouting or sending chain mail)
Flaming (sending harmful or hateful messages)
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 â€œstealingâ€ intellectual property (images, text) from Web sources.
Safety Clicks Assembly
The culminating activity for Computer Learning Month was a "Safety Clicksâ€ 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."
Given the fact that the initial survey information indicates that 92% of the fourth grade students have Internet access at home, and that we have Internet access throughout our school, the Deer Park Elementary Technology Committee wrote into the 2003-2004 school plan that cyber safety, copyright and fair use laws will be addressed as part of the schoolâ€™s technology initiatives.
Addressing cyber safety issues with parents has been part of the initiatives. Officer Penny, a crime prevention specialist in Fairfax County, stated at a 2002 parent information session that most crimes in our school district of Fairfax County, VA are on the decline except cyber crimes. He said that crime prevention experts state that one of the greatest areas of concern is the use of chat rooms and that cyber crimes went up 450% from 2001 to 2002. Many of these crimes were directly related to chat room use. The phenomenon of children befriending virtual strangers in chat rooms, or pretending to be someone they know and sending threatening messages to other friends through the use of chat rooms or direct Emails is becoming more and more common. At the same meeting, John Gains, one of our Deer Park parents and employee of AOL, stated unmonitored access by children in the home is a great concern. He advises that parents learn how to use Internet access controls, allowing them to set limits on what their children can see and do while online. Some Internet providers will also allow parents to restrict individual accounts to access only content and Web sites that are appropriate to certain age groups. Mr. Gains also suggested that parents know the passwords of their children and they should monitor their childrenâ€™s Email and periodically check the history file on the computer their children use so they are aware of how their children are using the Internet. Placing computers in areas with high traffic, not in a childâ€™s bedroom for example, will also help in monitoring what children are doing on the computer.
Will these cyber safety initiatives have long-term effects in terms of keeping our children safe in cyber space? We have no real way to know. However, not addressing these topics with elementary school children is a risk we are not willing to take. The statistics in cyber crimes against children are rising and something must be done.
Email: Diane DeMott Painter