Cyber Safety Guide for Schools
We live in a highly connected world and Australian students are spending more time online than ever before. Children and young people use the internet to learn, relax, have fun, express themselves, share interests, access services and connect with friends, family and online communities. While this increasing connectivity has enormous benefits, it also places students at increased risk of online harms such as cyber bullying, image based abuse, grooming, privacy breaches and online hate.
We now understand that students’ online experiences play a significant role in their social and emotional development, which is why cyber safety education is a key component of most school’s anti bullying programs and student wellbeing programs.
This guide provides an overview of cyber safety for primary students and high school students and how to deliver cyber safety education effectively in schools. It is designed to be a useful resource for teachers, families and other members of the school community, who all play a part in protecting the safety and wellbeing of students online.
Read along or use the navigation to jump ahead.
Table of Contents
What is cyber safety?
Cyber safety is the safe and responsible use of information and communication technologies, such as the internet, social media, online games, smart phones, tablets and other connected devices.
Cyber safety education provides students with the knowledge and skills they need to stay safe in online environments.
It involves acknowledging the benefits and opportunities offered by the online world, while understanding the risks and avoiding potential harms.
A recent report from the eSafety Commissioner identified some of the key safety concerns facing Australian students in online environments, based on a review of the current evidence. These issues include:
- Spending excessive time online
- Exposure to inappropriate or explicit content
- Contact with strangers and offers to meet up in person
- Receiving unwanted contact or content from people online
- Cyber bullying, aggression and online hate
- Rumours and lies being shared online, and being left out or excluded
- Sharing self-generated sexual images
- Grooming, child sexual abuse and sexual exploitation
- ‘Digital distraction’ from homework, relationships or sleep
- Responding to negative online experiences
- Knowing what information to trust online
Why is cyber safety important?
Children and adolescents are spending more time online than ever before and are interacting online from a younger age. According to the latest Australian Child Health Poll, 67% of primary school children and 36% of preschool children own their own screen-based digital device. In this survey, one in six primary school children and three in four adolescents had their own social media account. Kids in this survey were spending an average of 32 hours per week on screens at home and 43% of were regularly using screens at bedtime. It is likely these figures have increased since this 2017 report, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Online gaming is also on the rise amongst Australian children and young people, amongst both males and females.
In a study by the eSafety Commissioner, 6 out of 10 young Australians aged 8 to 17 years reported that they have played online multiplayer games, and 1 in 2 reported playing games with people they have never met in person.
Around 34% of young people surveyed said they had made in-game purchases in the past year and 17% had experienced in-game bullying.
There is some evidence that time spent on social media excessive internet use are linked to depression, anxiety and psychological distress. Cyber bullying is also associated with poor mental health and psychosocial outcomes for children and young people. Students need to learn how to care for themselves and others in online environments, in order to mitigate these negative effects and build more positive online experiences.
How can schools deliver effective cyber safety education?
Cyber safety education has become a priority for Australian schools in recent years, with many schools implementing school wide cyber safety programs for their students. Online safety education is a relatively new frontier for most educators, which is why schools need access to up-to-date research and resources to support their cyber safety programs.
The eSafety Commissioner is Australia’s independent regulator for online safety and is the world’s first government agency committed to keeping its citizens safe online.
The eSafety Commissioner leads and coordinates the efforts of government, industry and not-for-profit organisations to safeguard Australians from online harms and encourage safer and more positive online experiences.
The eSafety Commissioner also has powers to investigate and take action in response to complaints of serious cyber bullying made by children under 18 years and their carers.
For more information about the reporting tool go to eSafety.gov.au/report.
The Best Practice Framework for Online Safety Education
The Best Practice Framework for Online Safety Education provides an overview of the guiding principles for online safety education, commissioned by the eSafety Commissioner and conducted by the QLD University of Technology in 2019. According to the report, cyber safety education should be founded on children’s rights, framed positively, based on evidence and embedded within the landscape of wider school systems and supports. Effective cyber safety programs should also be well-designed and well-implemented, underpinned by principles of effective prevention and aligned with other priorities, such as the Australian Student Wellbeing Framework, the Australian Curriculum and the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations.
The framework also provides an overview of systems that should be in place to support effective online safety education. Schools should have clear policies and procedures around issues such as bullying, student wellbeing, bring your own device (BYOD), acceptable use of technology at school, and incident reporting and response. They should ensure teachers are appropriately trained and supported to implement effective cyber safety education. Schools should also build partnerships with parents, carers and companion agencies such as child protection authorities, local health services, mental health NGO’s and the eSafety Commissioner.
The framework also identifies four key themes that should be covered as part of an effective cyber safety school program:
1. Digital Citizenship
Cyber safety programs should include digital citizenship resources for students, to foster critical awareness, civic engagement and an understanding of rights, responsibilities and ethical behaviour in online environments.
2. Social and emotional learning
Cyber safety programs should be based on the principles of social and emotional learning (SEL), in order to build students’ resilience, self-awareness, coping strategies and interpersonal skills in online environments.
3. Specific Risks
Programs should include information about specific online safety risks and how to prevent them, such as cyber bullying, child sexual abuse, grooming, exposure to harmful or distressing content, and excessive gaming and internet use.
Help-seeking is an important protective factor for children and young people and is a behaviour that can be clearly taught and learnt. Help-seeking should therefore be a key component of any cyber safety school program.
The eSafety Toolkit for Schools
The eSafety Commissioner offers a free, evidence-based eSafety Toolkit to help Australian schools prevent and respond to cyber safety issues in their communities.
The resources support four key stages of cyber safety for students:
- Prepare: Resources to help schools assess their readiness to address online safety issues and provide suggestions for improving their systems.
- Engage: Resources to help schools engage their communities, including staff, students and families, to create more positive online environments.
- Educate: Resources to build the capacity of school communities to deal with online safety issues, including guidelines around staff training, implementing cyber safety programs and engaging external online safety education providers.
- Respond: Resources to help schools assess and respond to cyber safety incidents and protect the mental health and wellbeing of their students.
The Online Safety Curriculum Connection
The Online Safety Curriculum Connection was developed for the Australian Curriculum in collaboration with the eSafety Commissioner. The curriculum connection was designed to help schools identify areas of the curriculum that support online safety education and link teachers in with other online safety and digital citizenship resources for students. The curriculum connection identifies five dimensions of learning in online safety education:
- Values, rights and responsibilities
- Respectful relationships
- Digital media literacy
- Informed and safe use of information and devices
The Trusted eSafety Provider Program
The Trusted eSafety Provider Program was developed by the eSafety Commissioner to help schools select high quality cyber safety programs for their students. The program gives schools confidence that the external providers they engage are endorsed by eSafety and meet a high standard of knowledge, capability and experience in delivering online safety education. Brainstorm Productions is proud to be endorsed as a Trusted eSafety Provider, offering engaging, curriculum-based cyber safety programs for primary and high school students.
Learn more about the Trusted eSafety Provider Program.
How can school theatre companies support cyber safety education?
Theatre in education is a unique way to start conversations about cyber safety in the classroom. Educational theatre companies like Brainstorm Productions offer a creative and immersive learning experience for students. They have the opportunity to see online safety scenarios played in front of them and observe practical skills in action.
Brainstorm’s cyber safety programs for primary and high school students take a positive, resilience-based approach, demonstrating practical skills that are linked to the Australian Curriculum and key areas of social and emotional learning (SEL). Our theatre in education performances empower students to be responsible, respectful and compassionate digital citizens, who seek help in response to negative online experiences and look after each other online.
Cyber safety programs
Our cyber safety school programs cover topics such as cyberbullying, online ethics, help-seeking, digital literacy, privacy, security, scams, unwanted contact, grooming, image sharing, respectful online relationships, impulse control, dealing with pressure from advertising and social media, and building resilience in response to negative online experiences.
Each live performance is followed by a discussion with the students and is supported by a suite of curriculum-aligned classroom resources.
Learn more about our cyber safety programs.
More cyber safety and digital citizenship resources for students
- Kids Helpline offers counselling, support and information to children and young people aged 5 to 25 years. The website provides age-appropriate information about a range of wellbeing topics, including cyberbullying, online gaming, fights with friends online, privacy, security and knowing who to trust online.
- Headspace provides young people aged 12 to 25 with physical and mental health support in the form of online, telephone and face-to-face counselling. The website also provides youth-friendly information about mental health and wellbeing issues, including online safety and cyberbullying.
- Reachout.com has lots of information for young people about mental health and wellbeing, including cyber bullying and social media use.
- Youth Law Australia is a community legal service that helps children, young people and their supporters find legal solution to their problems, including information and advice around cyber safety issues.
- Scamwatch is an Australian Government website that provides up-to-date information about how to recognise, report and avoid online scams. Resources like these can help students to think critically about their own online safety and how to protect it.
- The Australian Cyber Security Centre provides information and resources for Australians to help them stay safe online, including the Stay Smart Online program.
Did you find this guide helpful?
Check out our other free student wellbeing resources for schools:
Follow us on Facebook for updates on our cyber safety programs and other cyber safety resources.
Learn more about cyber safety on our blog.