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Five strategies for ensuring online safety for students

Worried about online safety for students? Discover 5 strategies to keep them protected from cyber threats and thrive in the digital world.
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Online learning gives today’s K-12 students astounding opportunities to thrive as learners. Digital tools literally put the world at their fingertips. They can peruse museums and archives or shadow leading scientists and explorers. The internet has become the ultimate go-to for learning, communicating and entertainment.

Sadly, the proliferation of what’s beneficial and positive is overshadowed by the negative and detrimental. Undeniable dangers exist for learners online. These include cyberbullying, inappropriate content and identity theft, to name a few. Encouraging learners’ natural thirst for new knowledge and experiences while keeping them safe online is a major challenge for educators and administrators. It’s critical to create a school environment where online safety for students is a priority. 

Understanding online risks and why internet safety is critical 

To protect learners from the dangers they face in an online learning environment, educators must first grasp the seriousness of the situation. Since the internet is a portal to the world, a child on a device faces risks. Although they may be sitting next to a parent on a living room couch or at a desk in a classroom, they are not necessarily safe. 

Online dangers are insidious and far-reaching. Some, like taunting from peers, may resemble problems encountered on the playground, at the bus stop or out on the street. However, most are harder for adults to perceive which is why providing layers of protection for learners is paramount.

Real-world consequences are as tragic as abduction or students taking their own lives. It is beneficial that educators acknowledge and feel their own fears before attempting to address online dangers with their learners.

Education leader Dr. Sean Coffron recommends a methodical process, including calming your own panic around these dangers. He notes that this usually presents itself as some degree of paralysis and inactivity. Along with this important self-reflection, supporting each other as colleagues helps lay the groundwork for taking action. A team approach also prevents the responsibility of keeping learners safe from weighing too heavily on classroom educators.  

Categories of online risks for learners and schools


Cyberbullying is repeated harassment, humiliation and threats directed toward a person through an electronic device. Unfortunately, learners nowadays have high exposure to cyberbullying. In fact, a Pew Research study found that nearly half of all teens have experienced cyberbullying in some way. Learners who are victims of cyberbullying have a significantly higher likelihood of suicidal thoughts, attempts and suicide. 

Inappropriate content

Content can negatively affect learners if they see things that are not appropriate for their age or development. This may have a lasting impact on their mental health, especially if what they view is violent or explicit. Inappropriate content can appear in searches or as pop-up ads while children view otherwise wholesome content.

Online predators 

Predators trying to hook child victims hang around places where the children feel at ease. Like the classic creep on a park bench next to the playground, expect them on popular social media and gaming platforms. The internet allows them to conceal their real identities. This makes it easy to lure children closer through exploitative means such as playing games in a virtual world or pretending to be a peer.


In phishing, cybercriminals use email to trick readers into clicking malicious links or attachments. Children can be especially susceptible to “smishing,” the social media and app equivalent. Even adults can be tricked into clicking on a note from a friend that reads ”Check this out!” These often look like legitimate messages from friends and family. 


Children also can fall for scams offering enticing rewards, such as free access to online games or prizes awarded through a few simple keystrokes. Learners may also unknowingly overshare their own private information or a parent’s credit card number through website forms or other online communication.

Identity theft            

When learners search online, they become vulnerable to their private information being viewed and stolen. Online networks can be hacked. A learner or staff member may unknowingly click on a malicious website which installs malware on the device they are using. 

Why schools need multiple strategies for online student safety

Since young people spend more time online than any other demographic, effectively teaching them about internet safety gives them tools to be proactive in the face of potential harm. 

Providing instruction in cyber safety for students is the innermost layer of protection. Learners need to understand how to make responsible choices. The other layers include implementing tools such as screen monitoring and powerful web filtering software with student wellness alerts. Together strategies and tools can protect learners from harmful content, bullies, predators and cybercriminals who prowl the digital world unseen.    

Strategy one: Educate learners on the risks and how to be safe 

Build trust with learners

Create opportunities to listen to learners’ questions and concerns around using the internet so they feel more comfortable about sharing. Speak openly about the potential threats outlined above in a way that allows them to assimilate the information. Knowledge helps make learners less vulnerable to unknowingly putting themselves at risk. Back up facts with tools and steps they can take. 

Interactive and age-appropriate activities

Including online safety activities in the classroom is a great way to start. Support this by embedding this important topic into other subject matter to reinforce the message and provide valuable practice.

Cover the content in ways that engage your learners’ particular age group. Research ties interactive activities to better academic performance and assimilation. Here are fun and effective ideas for introducing the subject of cybersecurity. 

  • Role-playing scenarios are simple yet successful when teaching children to identify suspicious virtual behaviors and the potential consequences that they might encounter. 
  • Online competitions, quests and other games challenge learners to build and demonstrate their understanding. This compilation of activities focuses on cyber safety.
  • Videos give learners a visual depiction of important principles making content easier to relate to. Be sure learners have the means to share their understanding as a follow-up to videos. 
  • If you have the opportunity to create technology usage guidelines, find opportunities for incorporating learner buy-in. Giving them some ownership of the decision-making process is likely to lead to more adherence later on. 

Checklist for teaching students online safety

  1. Password power
    Having a weak password opens the door for easy access to personal information. The simplest way to avoid this happening is by creating strong and complex passwords. Use numbers, symbols, and lowercase and uppercase letters to achieve this.
  1. Privacy controls
    Privacy control is a setting, found especially on social media platforms, where users are able to filter out viewers they have not accepted. It is one of the simplest yet most effective ways of staying clear of online predators and allows kids to navigate the internet and participate on social media more safely.
  1. Think before you click
    Beware of messages impersonating friends, family or businesses. They are designed to trick people into giving up sensitive information, such as credit card numbers, addresses or passwords.

Teach learners ways to identify fraudulent messages such as:

  • Excessive number use, typos and special characteristics in a sender’s username
  • Grammatical errors in the message
  • Too good to be true offers
  • Vagueness in the message 
  • Urgent offers, threats that trigger panic 
  1. Stay current
    Discuss new threats and privacy concerns, including how popular sites and apps store user information and activity. Learners need to know about avoiding plagiarism as well as how to detect unreliable news and information sources.
  1. Know the laws
    Ensure that learners and the school staff understand internet laws, and include parents/guardians in discussions about how to intervene when necessary. 

Strategy two: Teach a comprehensive digital citizenship curriculum 

The consequences of harm learners themselves can cause can be as devastating and baffling as problems due to outside lurkers. It’s critical that learners grasp that their own split-second choices online can leave permanent scars. 

One way to do this is through a comprehensive digital citizenship curriculum. This helps learners foster the lifelong habits of self-respect and decency toward others necessary for our connected world. It helps learners develop their internal filters. It is most effective when lessons are authentic and involve problem solving that’s relevant to learners’ lives. 

Curriculum areas may include:

  • Media balance and wellbeing
  • Digital drama, hate speech and cyberbullying
  • Relationships and communication
  • Digital footprint and identity

These Hāpara Workspaces provide comprehensive digital lessons for all grade levels: 

As educators, using your technology in a thoughtful manner also sets a living example for learners. As we reveal our own efforts to balance our social media use with our learners, we can encourage healthy limits on and off screens. 

Strategy three: Implement a powerful web filter

Implementing a powerful web filter is a critical step in providing safe online learning environments. To do this effectively, it is important to understand the ins and outs of web filtering software available to schools. While many products are similar, not all are the same. For instance, Deledao ActiveScan, presented by Hāpara, is a filter that uses real-time AI to detect the context of images and content. It can then immediately blur inappropriate or harmful content. This means that one odd image in a search or in an otherwise-appropriate YouTube video is blurred in an instant. This precise filtering process makes it feasible for learners to be given access to a greater wealth of useful content. 

Some web filters also have features that detect potential self-harm and other mental health issues. Deledao ActiveScan, presented by Hāpara, also includes a student wellness feature that sends an alert to designated staff members. These are often school counselors who can attend to the learner in a discreet and supportive way.

Toni La’Zurs, the Middle-Upper School Counselor at The Briarwood School says that the student wellness alerts give her direct insight into the mental health challenges learners may face. 

Tarrytown Schools in New York also uses Deledao ActiveScan, presented by Hāpara and its student wellness feature. Jean O’Brien, Technology Integration Specialist, says, “The filter is a lifesaver for us.”

Strategy four: Support gradual expansion of learner autonomy online 

To help learners develop self-sufficiency, educators can progressively increase what learners access based on grade level and maturity. A gradual release of responsibility model helps them to develop their autonomy safely in an online environment over the course of their K-12 career. Hāpara Highlights tools are designed to help educators easily facilitate this. 

Using the guided browsing feature, teachers can set up a Focus Session and guide learners to a limited number of pages within certain websites for the highest level of intervention. Later, with the same feature, they can increase access to entire websites. This process can be used to help learners develop critical research skills that encompass forming questions, navigating the internet safely, discerningly researching facts and citing reputable sources.

Transparently use monitoring by letting your learners know that you can see their screens. Hāpara’s Ethical Monitoring Pledge is aimed at protecting student privacy while promoting digital citizenship. Ethical monitoring means educators demonstrate responsible browsing behavior and use screen visibility to open constructive communication with learners and to guide practice. 

Student questioning or resistance to monitoring opens up important conversations about why certain sites are restricted during school hours or on school devices. Challenges can become real-world opportunities to explore the long-term ramifications of not using class time or the internet appropriately. 

Your approach should depend on the situation. A hard “no” may be best on some occasions and with some students. In others, flexibility may support deeper learning. 

Strategy five: Collaborate to promote long-term safety 

A climate of open and honest communication promotes safety and helps mitigate harm when problems do arise. Open communication supports school communities in working on internal issues such as cyberbullying among classmates with the same diligence as outside threats. 

For students who have experienced harm online, having someone to turn to for support cannot be overemphasized. School counselors recognize the impact interactive digital technology has on student learning and well-being and are there to meet with students. 

Learners sometimes can confide in school resource officers about situations they’re ashamed to bring up with their parents or teachers. School resource officers, who are trained to prevent and deal with criminal activity, can alert staff and families to new dangers and scams.  

Uniting as professionals to prioritize student well-being sends a powerful message to learners, their families and the community. It lets them know that they can focus on learning with the security of a protective net of concerned and caring adults committed to ensuring their bright future.

Learn what to focus on when building a culture of digital citizenship, including conversation starters for learners and educators!

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