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While violent crimes have decreased in the United States over the past 25 years, developments in technology over the same time period have resulted in new challenges for Americans. Between computers, tablets, and smartphones, it’s easier than ever for children to get online. On the one hand, the internet definitely helps when it comes to writing reports, but on the other hand, students are exposed to bullying, online predators, and accidental information leaks on practically a daily basis.

Child safety is an issue that everyone takes seriously, though some states are making progress more quickly than others. In fact, a recent report listed Massachusetts as the 10th safest state in the country for kids online. But just because the Bay State scored well in the categories of malware infection rates, youth victims of internet crime, education rank, cyberbullying laws, and youth mental illness doesn’t mean educators can sit back and relax—it takes work to maintain these standards.

Here are five ways that educators and schools in Massachusetts can uphold their record of high online safety standards.

Continue to prevent and respond to cyberbullying

Massachusetts legislation around bullying—including bullying that happens online—helped set the tone for national conversations. But the problem doesn’t end with the law. Cyberbullying impacts one out of every five middle/high school students, so as an educator, it’s essential to know the warning signs that a child is being cyberbullied. These are a few of the red flags that a child may be a target of cyberbullying:

  • Getting nervous about going to school
  • Seeming uneasy when using their connected devices
  • Becoming withdrawn or depressed
  • Losing interest in things that used to be important to them
  • Avoiding talking about or becoming secretive about what they’re doing online

It’s also important to know how to identify a student that might be cyberbullying others. Some warning signs include the following:

  • Having increased behavioral issues
  • Using multiple online accounts
  • Being on their devices an inordinate amount or getting exceptionally upset if you take their devices away
  • Appearing overly confident about their online usage
  • Seeming overly concerned about what their peers think

Many of these cyberbullying warning signs are typical teen behavior, so it can be helpful to have an open conversation with the student and their family if you have concerns. The Cyberbullying Research Center is also a great resource for both educators and parents.

Massachusetts is already doing a great job when it comes to online safety with students, but there’s always room for improvement. Staying consistent and always striving to learn new ways to keep children safe will position the state as a leader in online safety for years to come.

Educate students about online safety

Several Massachusetts districts are moving toward 1:1 or BYOD device policies—and some, like Gateway Regional School District, have already reached that goal. As connective devices become commonplace, educators need to devote time to teach online safety to protect kids both inside and outside the classroom. Schools may choose to block websites that are inappropriate for students to use, but educating students about online safety is also imperative to keep them secure when they won’t be protected by school filters.

Many kids don’t realize that what gets put on the internet remains out there forever, even if you delete it. So it’s critically important to teach kids to not put personal information (like their phone number, address, etc.)—or any potentially compromising information—online.

Stranger danger used to mean not talking to people you don’t know outside of school, but in the 21st century, it also means staying safe around random people online. If you have the time and resources, you can also help your students analyze social media profiles for anything that could be potentially dangerous. Finding and discussing warning signs will help set kids up for safety success down the line.

Teach and practice safe cellphone habits

Cellphone use in the classroom is still a point of debate across Massachusetts school districts, but there’s little chance that mobile devices will go away anytime soon. Teenagers especially are rarely very far from their cellphones, making these devices a ubiquitous and often unguarded point of access.

As such, schools need to set clear expectations around phone use that can be easily communicated to students and parents.

Teachers and administrators should also model safe and respectful phone use during school hours. Additionally, any faculty or staff members who sign in to school emails or accounts on their mobile devices should practice safe phone habits to protect student information.

Move Toward Standardized Secure Data Handling

Keeping student information safe online isn’t up to just individual teachers and students—schools and districts at large need to do their part to keep student data safe. There are several safeguards that schools can put in place that can help achieve this:

  • Encrypt student data, as well as any email communication that might contain sensitive student information
  • Be clear with parents and students about what you are using their information for
  • Tell parents and students immediately if there is a data breach
  • Train staff members on internet safety (use a strong password, log out of email and student data systems, clear out cookies and browsing data, update programs on a regular basis, etc.)

The Massachusetts Student Privacy Alliance (MSPA) is also great resource for finding and implementing secure data management practices, and many districts are already participating.

Work with parents to reinforce safe online habits

Last but not least, a big part of Massachusetts’s success with online safety has been educating parents. “Keeping Kids Safe Online” is a program that is part of an initiative by Project Safe Childhood and has been presented to parents in communities around the state and the country. The program teaches parents about popular and the importance of communicating with and supervising their children.

Educators and administrators can and should communicate school and district policies with parents to help encourage similar messaging around online safety both at school and at home. The Massachusetts state website also has some good tips for helping parents set safe online standards.

Massachusetts is already doing a great job when it comes to online safety with students, but there’s always room for improvement. Staying consistent and always striving to learn new ways to keep children safe will position the state as a leader in online safety for years to come.

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Alice is a freelance writer that specializes in tech and business. She has a passion for understanding how technology is changing the human experience and communicating this societal transformation.

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