Young students live in the world of their own city or town. Their knowledge is limited to their own experiences except for what they see on television. It’s doubtful that children under the age of twelve or thirteen are able to understand the difference between reality and fantasy. Their world is real, while the television is fantasy. In their everyday life there are consequences – if someone is knocked down then they get hurt, whereas on television people are shot and walk away unhurt or they jump off a high building without any injury. For young students being introduced to a computer, a monitor is a television screen that they can manipulate. This article is about making young ESL children aware of the dangers of the Internet as they use interactive English programs.
Computers are an important tool for teaching English Second Language students but do we have a responsibility to teach about the dangers that they can encounter with a click of the mouse? This wonderful tool is an exciting English language motivator because a lot of the Internet is in English. The students know about watching television, some of them may have a computer at home but that isn’t the norm in many countries. How can we show them the difference between watching television and interacting on a computer?
Here are some simple suggestions:
Have a small group of children gather around a computer monitor or sit at a monitor and keyboard in a computer lab.
Ask: Can you change what is on TV?
The children will say “Yes, you can go to a different story.” (channel)
Ask: Can you change what the people say on television?
Help them to understand that they can’t.
Open a window on the computer monitor and ask:
What do you want to say? (Type what they suggest or let one of them type it, according to their knowledge of English.)
What else do you want to say?
Continue until they understand that they can do something on the computer that they can’t do on the television.
The face should be blank – no eyes, nose or mouth. It is a good idea to color it blue so that there is no hint of race, color or sex. The picture can be on the screen or on a piece of paper, whichever is easier.
Explain that using a computer they can talk to people who live all over the world.
Show them the picture and ask:
“Do you know this person?”
“Do you talk to people you don’t know?”
“Are some people dangerous?”
Encourage them to talk about dangerous people they have heard about.
Ask: How could someone on the computer screen be dangerous?
Explain that talking to strangers on the Internet is the same a talking to strangers anywhere because they might ask:
What is your name?
Where do you live?
What is your phone number?
Explain that their name, address and phone number is their information. It belongs to them. They only give it to people that their parents know or to friends that they know well. Tell them that adults too, are very careful about giving out their personal information.
Perhaps if they see their personal information as one of their valuable possessions then they will be less likely to give it away. These suggestions are only several ways of dealing with the important problem of Internet safety. Young people are very vulnerable if they have no knowledge of the very real dangers that are a part of using a computer online.