teaching internet safety helps build good digital citizenship

In a recent “The More You Know” public service announcement from NBC, the TODAY show’s Matt Lauer stated, “Teach your kids to surf the web and post responsibly.” This statement applies to teachers, administrators and staff as well, not only parents. With half (52 percent) of all children in the United States having access to mobile devices, it is imperative that kids understand how to be responsible and safe online. Internet safety and digital citizenship is something that should be taught early and often throughout a student’s school career. Not only is it important to teach children the importance of being safe online, it is also important for adults to continue emphasizing it.

Here are some tips and reasons for teaching internet safety to children of every age:


At the preschool level, students must understand internet safety at the most basic level. At this tender age, a child needs only to know how to operate the applications that can benefit them. This is an age where unsafe sites and apps should be blocked completely. If the internet and/or devices are used, it should be at an extreme minimum. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours of screen time for all children. Children under the age of two should have no screen time. Therefore, preschoolers need little-to-no screen time. Given that it is difficult for many parents to abide by these recommendations, it is the responsibility of the school to limit screen access as much as possible. That said, the most helpful thing schools can do to teach internet safety and digital citizenship to students is teach their parents.

Schools can provide parents of small children with multiple resources for internet safety and safe activities for Pre-K students, such as the following:

  • The Family Online Safety Institute provides information on Good Digital Parenting that divides tips by age range
  • Net Smartz Kids, a program of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, provides a website with Pre-K appropriate games that are uninterrupted
  • Common Sense Media has tips for parents of preschoolers, including what to do when other people post pictures of kids online, and age requirements for allowing internet time


The elementary age is the time to start teaching kids to protect themselves online. As stated in Edutopia, three considerations should be addressed in internet safety at this level:

  • Transferring the understanding of “stranger danger” from real life to online
  • Teaching that online “strangers” are not always dangerous
  • Giving skills to escape danger online. (This post has a lesson on internet safety for Kindergarteners)

Teaching internet safety and digital responsibility at the elementary age includes beginning to explain why it is important to spend only short periods of time on computers and devices. Primarily using digital learning tools to enhance lessons instils the idea that computers and devices are reference tools, not just little boxes of live entertainment.

During the elementary school years, students should begin to learn the proper usage of search engines. Rather than introducing students to Google at this level, schools can use kid-friendly search engines such as Kidrex, Kidzsearch, Safe Search for Kids and Internet Public Library for Kids. These search engines allow for lessons on searching without worry of little eyes finding inappropriate subject matter.

Middle School

Oh the wonderful tween years…

By sixth grade most children in the US have become intimately acquainted with all things digital, including social media. This is the time to teach students about online identities and behavior. Because children at this age may already have their own smart phones equipped with their own personal Facebook accounts, games and YouTube, teaching about digital responsibility and stewardship is imperative. Teachers can help children to understand what information should be kept private and what should be shared. An important theme to lessons should be to have open communication about online activities with parents, teachers and other trusted adults.

According to, some key concepts for students of this age level are:

  • Help students understand and commit to not sharing personal information with online “friends”
  • Commit to ethical online behavior, like posting only what they would be comfortable with the entire world seeing, and never using the internet to spread gossip or hurtful information about others
  • Teach the security tools that are available at school to help protect students
  • Help students understand that they are in charge of their own online experiences and to manage them just as their real lives.
  • Help students to understand the importance of never meeting people in person with someone they met online.

This post from has some great middle school level lessons for teaching internet safety.

High School

At the high school level, teaching internet safety and digital citizenship becomes more in-depth. From digital etiquette to proper usage of resources, high school kids need a solid understanding of their place in the online world. To have teachable moments with students in these areas, the internet in schools needs to be unblocked, but monitored. When given monitored access to the social media websites and applications with which they are most comfortable, teenagers are less likely to leverage these tools in harmful ways (e.g., for cyberbullying). Impero Software can provide solutions for monitoring while keeping kids safe.

As with middle school, high school students need to be made aware or reminded of how to communicate with trusted adults when they feel that unethical situations have taken place online. Ideally a school should have online options for anonymously reporting online bullying or abuse.

In addition to understandingethics and proper online behavior, high school students need to understand the importance of not stealing or damaging other people’s digital work and property. In preparation for college and the workplace, students should be taught about plagiarism, copyright, and illegal downloading.

By high school, students are aware of and utilizing search tools such as Google and Bing on a regular basis. Even with network safety tools in place, students will inevitably access inappropriate subject matter. Therefore, it is a good idea to have in place a policy of how to deal with this situation. With help from teachers and administrators, educators should develop a dialog that explains the proper way to react to, and move on from, inappropriate photos, blog posts, and other media. This may seem silly, but teenagers are keen to announce their findings out loud in class, which can cause a huge disturbance. Rather than shutting down the lines of communication, educators should teach students how to discreetly and politely report that something inappropriate popped up on their screen and without involving the entire classroom. This re-enforces future proper workplace behavior.

Common Sense Education has some great videos with corresponding lesson plans that help jumpstart conversations with students about much of the subject matter above.

College and Higher Education

Do adults really need to be taught about internet safety and online citizenship? You betcha! At college, students learn and communicate online a lot, in preparation for their professional lives. They need to be reminded of the importance of maintaining their digital reputations and those of others so that they have good digital stewardship in future employment.

This is the time to teach students to keep their online profiles up to date with information and images that portray them professionally and intellectually. Remind students that they shouldn’t put anything online that they wouldn’t want an employer to see. Let them know about common hiring practices, such as searching for potential new hires’ profiles on social media. Teach about appropriate email correspondence and how businesses can track data of communications on any devices used on their servers and internet connections.

Again, as with all other age groups, reiterate the importance of communicating any inappropriate activity online. Give college students the resources to anonymously report any bullying or harassment. Tell students the course of action to take when plagiarism or copyright infringement has taken place. Reinforce proper usage of references. Explain the importance of taking this knowledge with them into their future workplace. Many an employee has lost a job by writing, reporting, or using images that were not legally obtained.

Stay Safe Online has some excellent pointers for teaching online safety to college level students here.

In addition to online safety, college is the time to teach about time management in the workplace. When an employee is taking up paid time to check personal social media, emails or shop online, this is considered a form of stealing, dubbed “time theft” by many employers. According to, 64% of employees say they use the Internet for personal interest during working hours. This costs companies thousands of dollars each year, especially if employees are paid hourly and overtime. (Time wasted is made up in work time paid over 40 hours per week.) Teaching college students about the importance of using the internet and digital tools during work will help our future workforce be more productive and less distracted.


Internet safety and digital citizenship go hand in hand and should be taught to students at every level of their educational careers. Teaching about resources, ethics, time management, and communication are all part of building a future workforce of digital stewards that utilize the internet in safe and appropriate ways.

Here are some additional resources for teaching internet safety in schools:

  • TeachersFirst – Classroom Resources for Internet Safety and Digital Citizenship
  • Teaching Channel – Teaching Digital Citizenship (Grades 305)
  • Pinterest – Digital Citizenship
  • net – Helping teachers, technology leaders and parents to understand what students should know to use technology appropriately
  • EdTechReview – 10 Characteristics of a Good Digital Citizen


 Infographic via EdTechReview