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Who's teaching our kids about Internet safety?

A new survey illustrates the widespread confusion that exists in our schools when it comes to educating our kids about Internet safety and ethical online behavior.

"There's no national consensus around what we are supposed to be teaching kids about being participants in a digital age," says Michael Kaiser, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance, the nonprofit organization that commissioned the survey.

Although there was almost unanimous agreement among teachers and school administrators that Internet safety, online ethics and cybersecurity should be taught in schools, just over one-third of teachers reported that these topics were part of their school curriculum.

When asked to identify the ethical issues that have come up in the classroom within the last 12 months, only 35% of teachers pointed to "netiquette", or how to conduct oneself online in a way that is appropriate and courteous to others. In a sign that teachers may have other concerns about the Internet, 56% instead pointed to plagiarism as a more popular recent topic, i.e. the problem of students copying other people's work from the web and claiming it as their own.

Even topics that have regularly hit the headlines over the last year, like cyberbullying and sexting, have received little attention. Only 28% of teachers have addressed online harassment and just 22% have discussed sexting.

Despite the fact that nearly all those surveyed thought it important that school-age children learn about online ethics and security, there was confusion about who was supposed to be doing the teaching. The survey found that seven out of 10 teachers think the primary responsibility should be with parents, while nearly half of school administrators say teachers should be responsible.

Many teachers feel ill-prepared when it comes to helping students navigate the online world. More than three-quarters of those surveyed said their professional development over the past year included less than six hours related to Internet safety and online ethics.

It's clear from the survey that parents who rely on schools to teach their children about the Internet are taking a big risk. With no formal guidance on what's right and wrong, kids are more likely to just emulate other kids' behavior, often with disastrous consequences.

Are your kids receiving any formal Internet safety guidance at school? Are teachers well-prepared to offer such guidance? Share your thoughts with The Online Mom!

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