October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month and it is no surprise that there has been and continues to be a gradual increase in the presence of technology in our everyday lives. More often than not, this accessibility is at the palm of our hand any minute throughout the day. It gives us access to the Internet for various means of communication, ways of expressing ourselves creatively, shopping, social media, and other uses. Unfortunately, with the freedom to share information with and about each other, some of these uses can lead to identity theft, bullying, and significant damages to one’s life. Youth and young adults lead the way in adopting new technologies into their lifestyles and have a certain comfort level with technology stemming from early childhood integration. It is natural for teens to communicate and interact online without a second thought; however, they are often unaware of the possible negative consequences.
Recent research by Pew Internet & American Life Project estimates that 95% of teens use the Internet regularly with 88% having witnessed online bullying during that time. We have seen a rise in social, psychological, and even criminal repercussions because students do not understand, or are not completely aware of, the ramifications of their online actions.
Educators and parents alike may feel overwhelmed with educating students on how to interact safely online. The challenges of keeping students safe make online education more important than ever. One’s digital footprint can follow him or her anywhere. What students do online can have a significant impact on their future. It is essential to be aware of the dangers and vulnerabilities that exist if students are not creating strong passwords or do not take precautions to be aware of phishing attacks and malicious software. By protecting their personal information online and on social media, students will be less likely to be victims of identity theft. Nine out of ten teens between the age of 13 and 17 use social media platforms; 71% of them use more than one. What students post on social media can give away private information and make them vulnerable to predators or identity theft. The social media site Instagram is extremely popular among students many of whom may have their accounts set as public. Users are able to view pictures and videos of public accounts, but also see where they are taken if the geotagging function is enabled for an account. With over 100 million active users, it is uncertain who may be actively tracking a student’s routine with just a few steps to track down GPS coordinates. Predators could know the school, favorite hangouts and even the home address of students making them easy targets for stalking, abduction or assault.
The anonymity of cyber space plays a big role in students being harassed or threatened online. Cyberbullying, defined by the National Crime Prevention Councils as “the process of using the internet, cell phones, or other devices to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person,” can be more difficult to control because it can take many forms. The emotional and psychological harm can be devastating. Studies conducted by the Cyberbullying Research Center revealed that 25% of middle and high school students have been victims of cyberbullying; 16% admit to participating in bullying behavior.
By providing education about internet safety and cyberbullying, educators can get students involved in actively creating awareness and taking steps to protect themselves. Society does not want to see students harm their future due to a cyber event that occurred that was intended to be harmless.