Why a holistic approach is needed to effectively protect students online

In today’s climate of ‘always on’ social media, students are becoming immersed in a 24/7 digital world. And while there’s no doubt that the internet and social media platforms are wonderful forums for learning, as well as connecting people, they can also bring inherent dangers.

A study by Florida Atlantic University found that almost 73 percent of students age 12-17 reported that they had “been bullied at school at some point in their lifetime.” In fact, 44% reported having been cyberbullied in the past 30 days.

Adele Abbiss, Online Safety Expert at Smoothwall, discusses how implementing digital monitoring and filtering solutions across your school district can help to protect the safety and well-being of students, and why these methods can work so effectively as part of a wider, more holistic approach to effectively keep students safe online and offline.

Identifying those at risk

With an ever-rising digital safety risk being posed by technology, it’s essential that schools are equipped with the tools to act fast, efficiently and in the best interest of students. Our Smoothwall research uncovered that 98% of teachers rely on their students to tell them if they are being bullied online, yet only 5% of students admit they would confide in a teacher if they were subjected to this. This is where effective monitoring solutions can be used as an important bridge when it comes to identifying students who may be at harm online – allowing schools to provide more effective support.

It has been proven that if a student is exposed to harmful and inappropriate material or experiences online, it can result in a dramatic change in behavior that often causes wider disruption in the classroom. However, with so few students turning to teachers in their time of need, identifying the root cause of the problem can be a challenge.

This is where digital monitoring comes in. Through effective filtering and monitoring tools, software providers can not only prevent students from accessing potentially harmful material in the first place but can actually monitor their keystrokes, search terms and phrases, and capture anything typed in that may indicate the student is at risk.

Indicators that a student is at harm can be picked up in real-time if they have used their keyboard or screen in any way to view, message or type out their feelings – even if the message was never sent or the document was never saved. This can bring to light any concerns that may be affecting students, including cyberbullying, depression, grooming, radicalization, gang involvement, and violence to name just a few.

Any digital behavior which is then considered to be of concern will flag to a designated administrator and allows for the student to be provided with the necessary support to ensure their welfare before it’s too late.

A holistic approach

While social media companies hold some responsibility for the content we view and the way it’s shown to us through algorithms, the responsibility to safeguard students should not fall solely on the shoulders of these firms. In fact, just like we take our responsibilities as a digital safety solution for students online seriously, so do many other organizations such as the government, schools, technology providers, and parents.

With so many different people involved in the protection of students both on and offline, it is essential that we are all communicating holistically to ensure we are all working in a way that is supportive of each other in our mission to stamp out as much harmful content as possible.

It is this focus on collective responsibility when it comes to student safety that we value strongly here at Smoothwall, and something we feel is integral to the well-being of students online both now and in the future. By working with partners and agreeing as a collective what constitutes harmful behavior and the ways to address it, from preventing the offensive content from the outset, to educating students on how to be responsible digital citizens, and providing students the necessary skills to be able to navigate the internet safely, we can all help to protect students.

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