Online Safety for Homeschooled Students

By Devin Morrissey

Technology, and the advent of the internet specifically, has provided a whole new world of opportunity for the homeschooler. For those already prone to thrive in an environment where self-motivation, flexibility, and personal interests are essential components, it’s a match made in heaven.

While schooling online capitalizes on many of the innate benefits of the homeschooling system, it does pose threats that simply are non-existent when one is only utilizing good old-fashioned paper and pen.

The risks are generally those associated with hackers attempting to steal your information and bullies attempting to harass and threaten. However, you can equip yourself to navigate both issues so that you’re able to reap the rewards of online schooling while avoiding calamity along the way.

Hackers Gonna Hack

Generally speaking, if you’re online, you’re vulnerable to the attempts of cybercriminals. A key aspect of avoiding being taken advantage of is to understand how a hacker thinks and what types of things they utilize to take advantage of individuals.

Some of the avenues they employ include:

Advertisements: Hackers will purchase ad space on websites that will send those who click to landing pages already infected with malware. These aesthetically appealing links and ads give a hacker access to one’s computer.

Wi-Fi: Hackers will target locations that get a lot of traffic such as coffee shops. In much the same way that an infected water source can impact many at once, a fake web access point, or WAP, has the potential to impact many. Using software and a network, they can present what appears to be a legitimate Wi-Fi connection, and then gain access to the data on the computers of those who attempt to utilize the fake network.

Websites: Many hacking efforts include replicating popular websites. When a victim attempts to log in or provides other data to the replica, the hacker gets it.

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. There are a seemingly endless array of methods hackers employ. The end goal is virtually always to gain access to the data that will allow a hacker to access a bank account, utilize a credit card, and often, to take the personal information that will grant the ability to steal an individual’s identity. Criminal justice specialists at the University of Cincinnati report that cybercrime is virtually always motivated by financial reasons.

If you’re going to be participating in online college classes, if you’re utilizing an online platform for tutoring, or even if you’re merely using the internet for class research, you need to be prepared.

What You Can Do

If you’ve read this far, you’ve already begun to lay the foundation for proper defensive measures. Again, understanding the thought process of a hacker is vital to combat them. Here are some practical steps to take to ensure that your online education is a positive experience:

The experts at Panda Security note, “Tablets, laptops, and desktops allow [you] to explore, create, and benefit from all the internet has to offer. They’re also the gateways into your personal data and identity, and they’re expensive to replace.”

They recommend four things to keep devices secure:

  1. Only utilize HTTPS websites, because they are secure. HTTP are unsecured and leave you open to threats. If you must use a HTTP site, utilize antivirus protection and do not enter any of your information.
  2. Keep the operating systems on your devices up to date so that hackers can’t take advantage of security loopholes.
  3. Critically assess which apps and programs you actually need. Keep the ones that make the cut updated for the above reasons.
  4. Invest in antivirus software that will protect you and your family.

Employing these practical steps will make it much harder for a criminal to take advantage of you and your information. Taking these steps are worthwhile uses of an e-learner’s time and energy.

Bullies Gonna Bully

As the old adage claims, there’s nothing new under the sun. Certainly, bullying isn’t a new issue. What is new is the manner in which the internet allows bullies to operate. Cyberbullying, specifically, is when an individual is being harassed or threatened via a digital platform.

KidsHealth for Nemours writes, “Because many kids are reluctant to report being bullied, even to their parents, it’s impossible to know just how many are affected. But recent studies about cyberbullying rates have found that about 1 in 4 teens have been the victims of cyberbullying, and about 1 in 6 admit to having cyberbullied someone. In some studies, more than half of the teens surveyed said that they’ve experienced abuse through social and digital media.”

In a lot of ways, it removes all of the risk factors for the bully. Online, a bully has the ability to remain anonymous. They can more easily dehumanize their victims since they don’t have to look the victim in the eye, therefore making the victim seem far away and the consequences minor. Not only that, but the internet makes it easier than ever before for a bully to find information to use against others.

Much like with hackers, it’s helpful to understand how a bully thinks about potential victims.

According to studies cited by Ditch the Label, bullies are more likely than average to have experienced stress or trauma. Additionally, research suggests that while some individuals are able to deal with stress with healthy coping mechanisms, bullies are often showcasing that they do not possess the ability to do so.

While that doesn’t justify the behavior, it does lend insight. If you’re dealing with a bully, you’ve likely come in contact with an unhealthy individual who has experienced their own fair share of harm.

What You Can Do

Communicating about what’s going on is the most powerful defense that an individual experiencing cyberbullying can wield. While you should not engage with a bully — ignoring them is likely the best option — you should recognize that being open with those that care about you is the best way to navigate the challenges of bullying.

Tell your parents. Your parents are going to be your best source of support. Plus, if others become involved, parents are going to be your best advocates.

Tell the website. If you’re being bullied on a platform such as a public forum, utilize the “report abuse” option. If you’re on a site connected to the school you’re attending, inform the school.

Tell authorities. If an individual is threatening to harm you, or you feel that that potentially could happen because they know who you are, because they have said they will, or because they know who you are, talk to your parents about reporting them to authorities.

It’s important to note that as soon as you recognize the signs of bullying, you need to begin to record all exchanges with that individual. Save all forms of communication so that you can verify your side of the story, and so that those who care about you can give you adequate support.

Be different. One of the best responses an individual can have to being bullied is to allow the experience to fortify within themselves the resolve never to be a bully.

Homeschoolers are uniquely equipped to thrive in an online learning environment. If you’re able to utilize the opportunity to do so, it is important to recognize that the internet can be fraught with risk factors, though. Smart students who engage with the web in proactive, practical ways are in an optimal position to reap the rewards of online education without becoming a victim.

The future — not just of traditional education, but also of learning virtually anything — is online. Not only that, but whatever career you find yourself gravitating towards it’s likely that that path will include brand new processes and systems. From the innovations in healthcare to those in artificial intelligence, who can tell how many jobs will require individuals who can operate productively and critically while using technology as a means to an end.

Students who know how to safely navigate the system are poised for success both in and out of the classroom, now and well into their futures.

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