The UK Council for Internet Safety (UKCIS) believes children “have the right to enjoy childhood online, to access safe online spaces, and to benefit from all the opportunities that a connected world can bring to them”. While this statement recognizes the immense value technology can add to the lives of children, it also understands that many online spaces can become unsafe or detrimental. When unkindness spreads online, even spaces with the potential for enriching learning can see a perpetuation of damaging negativity.
There are many ways children can come to understand the risks of online activity, and can be taught skills to interact safely and kindly online. UKCIS has released a framework guiding educators on how further learning can be implemented into their curriculums. Their framework overarchingly points to the importance of being kind online. Healthy online spaces start with kindness, and encouraging kindness can be integrated into classrooms through easy discussions and exercises about being nice to people online.
In order to make the internet a safer place for children, children need to actively participate in making online spaces healthy and positive. Ensuring children understand empathy is the basis for achieving this.
To understand empathy, children can be told to imagine themselves in another person’s shoes. Attempting to understand and recognize another person’s feelings and struggles helps us empathise with them. Considering the feelings of others is the first step to being kinder online, and is the foundation of healthy online spaces.
Natterhub wholeheartedly supports UKCIS’s notion that children have a right to participate in online spaces in a safe manner. Natterhub believes that the only way children will truly learn how to actively practice empathy online is to practice it. In order to make this possible, Natterhub has created a truly safe space where children can practice positive online behaviours, learning online safety skills and practicing empathy. In this environment, students can take ‘Feel It’ lessons, and instructors can acknowledge empathetic and positive comments made by students by ‘boosting’ their post. These are just several ways Natterhub teaches empathy, but there are many ways this essential skill can be incorporated into future classrooms.
Teachable ways to be kind online
There are endless ways for children to learn to encourage kindness online. At Natterhub for example, students can participate in year-specific, interactive lessons which focus on fostering online kindness skills. Should teachers wish to develop online kindness exercises for their classrooms, UKCIS’s framework is organized into strands that address many facets of online safety, and these strands can help shape lesson development in a thoughtful way. In order to encourage online kindness in a comprehensive way, Natterhub has considered UKCIS’s framework and created suggestions for in-classroom exercises that address UKCIS’s strands. By implementing these into the classroom, teachers can educate students on the many facets of being kind online.
Online Relationships: The ‘Picture People’ exercise
UKCIS’s Online Relationships strand discusses “how technology shapes communication”, and develops strategies for fostering respectful relationships online, highlighting the power of positivity. Engaging children in the ‘Picture People’ exercise can help students be more thoughtful and intentional about their Online Relationships.
To practice the ‘Picture People’ exercise, children are encouraged to imagine everyone on the internet as a real person behind a computer screen. Sometimes we get swept into the world of the internet – where communication isn’t face-to-face, so it doesn’t seem like our words have consequences. Imagining an internet user as more than a username helps children understand the reality: that there is a real person with real feelings on the other end of online interactions.
Online Bullying: ‘Face it’
UKCIS’s Online Bullying strand explores the influence technology has on occurrences of bullying. Often, because online interactions seem inconsequential, children feel they can say anything to anyone online. This could encourage instances of bullying, even more so than in person. Teaching children the ‘Face it’ method can help combat this impact of technology.
Face It: There is a real person behind every computer screen. Children should think about how a person would react if they said something hurtful to their face – they would likely appear visibly upset. It’s difficult saying mean things to someone when their hurt is written all over their face. Online, you don’t get to see their reaction, but that doesn’t make it less real or severe. Children should be encouraged to face it – visualize how a person might react if you told them something unkind in person. Understanding the real impact of their words might deter them from saying a hurtful thing in the first place, and help them consider where their words are coming from. Chances are, they’re stemming from hurt, jealousy, anger… all things we don’t want to spread online.
Read more: How to be kind online – Natterhub