K-12 | Security | Technology

5 Tips for Teaching K-12 Students About Online Privacy and Security

Teaching K-12 students about online privacy and security issues is vital for developing the future global citizen and protecting them from trouble.
Alex Hay
Written by Alex Hay

Cybersecurity issues are becoming increasingly prevalent and can affect an individual or even an entire region. However, there is still a shortage of people who have the knowledge and skills to defend themselves against cyber threats, especially at advanced levels of experience. In fact, due to a global surge in cybersecurity awareness, the skills gap has actually widened.

The situation is alarming. Fortunately, there is an effective way to fight the skills gap: education! Because learning starts as early as grade school, K-12 programs should aim to include cybersecurity courses in their curriculum. 

K-12 teachers can introduce children to the field early and coordinate with parents to prepare them for future roles. After all, early learning is critical to supplementing career awareness and future growth.

With that being said, how do you teach young students the basics of cybersecurity? Here are 5 tips for teaching K-12 students the basics about online privacy and security: 

1. Define cyberbullying, how to identify it and stop it

The student experience is intertwined with an online experience. Not only do students communicate daily via apps and social networks, a good deal of their homework, study material and even study groups are found online. 

But for many students, the online experience can be fraught with potentially traumatic, even life-threatening, interactions with cyberbullies. Cyberbullying doesn’t just hinder personal development, it could also discourage the victims from getting more involved in computer and security studies due to negative associations. 

Teachers can help defy this by providing a set of guidelines to prevent and handle cyberbullying. For instance, you can give examples of cyberbullying during lessons, as well as offering a clear chain of consequences for cyberbullying.

Give your classes options of teachers and authority figures that students facing cyberbullying can confide in. Additionally, you can encourage them to think before posting and demonstrate how to improve privacy on social networks. 

2. Develop a cybersecurity dictionary

Another way to equip students with cybersecurity knowledge is to create a mini cybersecurity dictionary. You can make one by compiling a list of basic cybersecurity terms and explaining them in a simple manner.

Once you have it ready, start sharing it with your students. Distribute copies and ask them to bring it to class. Get students to open it up by asking the definition of a cybersecurity term or two in homework. 

Taking these steps will help students get a good grasp of the basics and may even increase their interest in the cybersecurity field. It will also make them more comfortable thinking about what might otherwise be a very intimidating topic.

3. Coordinate with parents

During a parent-teacher meeting or open house, tell parents about the skills gap and how educating them about cybersecurity topics can help them make better decisions online.. 

Teachers should also encourage parents to reinforce the concepts they’re teaching in class, such as by explaining why it’s crucial to block emails and friend requests from strangers. Parents of children in kindergarten through fourth grade can keep it basic by having kids draw a picture of what they imagine when they hear the term “cybersecurity.” They might also ask them to give an example of someone working in cybersecurity and the tools they might use to fight a cyberthief.

4. Encourage training camps

Independent organizations often arrange cybersecurity camps for K-12 students. Examples include Tech Camps by ID Tech and Cyber Camps by the US Cyber Challenge. It’s up to teachers to learn more about such programs and encourage their students to enroll in them. 

Camps like these equip children with lots of valuable computer science skills and concepts like cryptography, network security and encryption. After a few weeks at the camp, young learners will have a great head start in the industry. Some organizations even provide scholarships to make it more affordable for students.

5. Work cybersecurity into the digital citizenship curriculum

Teaching students what it means to be a responsible digital citizen isn’t a new idea in K-12, but it can cover a range of topics, including cybersecurity. For example, you can collaborate with your fellow educators to broaden the digital citizenship curriculum so that it covers the importance of emailing responsibly, creating strong passwords and connecting to secure internet networks. 

For students in higher grades, you can also work in small exercises such as setting up Google Alerts with cybersecurity-related keywords so that whenever new videos, events or articles are posted online, they can be first to know of the latest developments in the field. The sooner that students and kids feel that cybersecurity and the associated technology is a natural part of their lives, the more likely that some will develop and nurture the passion into an educational track.

The need for enhanced cybersecurity awareness at a school level is no longer an afterthought. Equipping young minds with the knowledge, environment and encouragement needed to protect themselves can make a world of difference. 

By implementing the tips above and establishing a community of cybersecurity advocates in K-12 settings, you can ensure that students will grow up security-conscious.

Originally published Sep 30, 2021, updated September 30, 2021

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