“We’re really excited about that, because it means that schools are concerned about this issue and want to find good methods to educate their kids,” she added.
Web Wise Kids uses computer games to educate students about safe and responsible online behavior, and Warren said using a format that children can relate to is an important step in making sure lessons are taken seriously.
Teachers are not exempt from online-safety education simply because they are adults, Warren noted.
“It is critically important to educate the educator, so we do internet training for educators and a full-day class for them to be educated not only for our program, but on the issue,” she said.
Too often, educators are asked to implement internet-safety education programs before they are familiar with the topic themselves, Warren added. And parents, too, are important.
“Parents are a critical piece in educating their kids in internet-safety awareness,” Warren said. “It needs to be a cooperative effort–parents, schools, communities, and kids.”
For internet-safety education to be effective, courses should be repeated every year, Warren said, using varying approaches if necessary.
“The message needs to be reinforced and communicated to different learning styles in different ways,” she said.
Warren said Web Wise Kids makes an effort to stay on top of emerging technologies and the safety threats they can pose.
“The reason we were ready last spring with a game that addressed the sexting issue was because in Asia they were already having problems with it–[and] we were ready for it here,” she said.
Mobile technologies that offer internet access, including cell phones, present an additional challenge, she said, because children can be exposed to internet dangers away from parental or educational supervision.
“Mobile devices are where everything is going to be, so educating the kids to make wise choices is really the only way to help them manage their future with technology,” Warren said. “We need to make kids their own protectors.”
Many schools already are working to create well-supported programs.
All Wisconsin elementary and middle schools have received an anti-bullying curriculum free of charge, with the $15,000 cost picked up by WEA Trust, a nonprofit group health insurer that covers many state school employees.
The program was spurred by the murder of a high school principal by a 15-year-old student, who later said he was relentlessly teased at school–and he brought the guns that day to make the principal and teachers listen to his problems.
A previous version of the curriculum, released in 2007, was used by 250 of the state’s 426 school districts, according to state Superintendent Tony Evers. He said he hopes all districts will use the new edition, which includes sections on how to deal with bullying over the internet.