Modern Digital Student Safety Requires More Than Just Content Filtering

Schools should strive to implement a multi-layered approach that combines expansive online safety measures with comprehensive digital literacy education and parent engagement.
Published: May 14, 2024

The risks students face online have heightened over the past decade, increasing awareness in the education system around the importance of children’s safe, responsible, and healthy technology use.

Schools are beginning to recognize the need to address students’ digital safety and well-being holistically, beyond the core essential approaches – like web filtering – that are primarily preventative in design. As new digital risks emerge, it is clear that filtering alone is no longer enough to safeguard and support children’s online experiences in the long run. At the same time, overly restrictive methods such as cell phone bans, especially with older students, often fall short when it comes to addressing the broader spectrum of concerns students face online.

As children’s behaviors and relationships with technology evolve, schools and educators need to expand their strategies when crafting comprehensive approaches to student digital safety and well-being.

Challenges of Building Digital Safety and Well-being Initiatives

When we reference ‘digital well-being’ in the context of children, we are talking about a balanced use of technology that supports and enhances their emotional, social, and cognitive well-being and doesn’t diminish it or cause them harm.

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One of the key challenges for driving comprehensive digital safety and well-being initiatives in schools is that the issue has yet to be firmly established as a pressing problem. Many schools are dealing with more fundamental challenges like chronic absenteeism, the digital divide, and funding shortages – problems that tend to take priority over emerging issues like the impact of technology use on children’s academics, relationships, and mental health.

While school administrators recognize that unsupervised and unrestricted use of the internet can cause harm to their students, they often struggle to find the time and resources to implement robust solutions to this problem.

School officials often don’t know where to start. Unlike more familiar issues that educators and administrators have been dealing with for decades, digital safety and well-being encompass a broad new spectrum of concerns that touch upon students’ mental health, social-emotional development, and how they consume and comprehend digital content. Our adoption of technology has been rapid and society has only recently started to pay attention to children’s experiences in the virtual spaces they frequent. Research is just beginning to reveal the negative impact of excessive and/or unsafe technology use.

Unlike other parts of the world — like Australia, where there is a designated authority (the eSafety Commissioner) to oversee online safety and well-being on a national level — we currently don’t have any one authority to do the same here in the United States. Even with helpful research and multiple advisories provided by the Offices of the Surgeon General and the CDC, it is difficult to make a sweeping concerted effort across schools without having a North Star to follow.

These factors, coupled with an overall lack of providers that offer holistic, expert-backed solutions, make it challenging for the educational system to acknowledge the problem and develop a cohesive strategy to combat it effectively.

Addressing the Broader Spectrum of Digital Safety and Well-being

Schools must move beyond traditional approaches to keep children safe online. While a robust web filter is a vital first step, filtering solutions alone cannot address the full range of risks and challenges students might face. Schools should strive to implement a more holistic, multi-layered approach that combines expansive online safety measures with comprehensive digital literacy education and parent engagement. This approach recognizes that protecting student safety and digital well-being is not just about mitigating the risks but also empowering children to develop the skills and resilience needed to thrive in the modern digital age. It also recognizes that to shape responsible, literate, and healthy technology users (and creators) for the future, our interventions must be applied consistently and over the long term.

A focus on fostering digital literacy should lie at the core of this comprehensive strategy. Students should be taught more than just how to consume technology. They must learn how to engage with it critically and responsibly, understand the psychological impact it can have on them, and become skilled at keeping themselves and others safe online. By teaching students to effectively and safely navigate the digital landscape, schools can cultivate resilient students who are prepared to adapt to the ever-changing modern world.

Digital literacy education should not be confined to the classroom walls either; it must extend into the home environment. By engaging and educating parents in digital well-being initiatives, schools can help ensure that the lessons and strategies learned at school are reinforced at home. This can include providing parents and caregivers with resources on healthy technology use and encouraging them to model positive behaviors for their children. With so many technological resources at their fingertips, parents often forget that quality parenting alone is just as powerful a tool.

Leveraging Technology for Support

Schools can also use technology advancements to propel their digital safety and well-being strategies. For example, AI-powered content monitoring can detect early signs of mental health struggles and enable timely interventions. Adaptive learning platforms can be used to tailor digital literacy curricula to individual student needs to ensure each child develops the necessary skills and resilience at their own pace.

However, schools must also be mindful of the limitations and potential risks associated with new technologies, like AI. These tools should always be implemented in tandem with human moderators, so educators and support staff remain at the forefront of any technological solutions. Schools must strike the right balance between using the power of technology to their advantage and maintaining a strong focus on the social-emotional and relational needs of the student at the center.

Building a Comprehensive, Sustainable Approach

The key to effectively addressing digital safety and well-being in schools is to take a comprehensive, multi-faceted approach that is deeply rooted in the classroom, the home, and the broader school community. This means going beyond simplistic “one-size-fits-all” solutions and crafting a tailored strategy that addresses the unique needs and challenges of each school’s student population.

Such an approach should start with clearly defining what digital well-being means for the school, why it’s important, and the specific challenges that young people face in today’s complex digital age. From there, schools can work to build out a layered system of interventions and support mechanisms. Potential solutions for a multi-faceted approach should always include robust online safety measures, like web filtering and device management, as a foundational layer of protection.

Schools should also teach digital literacy and social-emotional skills to help empower students to make responsible decisions and improve digital resilience. Further steps can be taken to provide targeted mental health and well-being support services for students while ongoing training for school administrators can continue to educate adults on digital well-being best practices. Schools should always aim to partner with parents to ensure that key lessons and strategies are being reinforced at home.

Most importantly, this approach requires ongoing efforts that evolve alongside the ever-changing digital landscape.

The stakes are too high to ignore the critical issues of digital safety and well-being in education. By taking a holistic, human-centered, and technology-enabled approach to supporting students’ digital resilience and overall well-being, schools can equip the younger generations with the tools and skills they need to thrive in the digital age today and in the future.

Teodora Pavkovic is the director of well-being at Linewize, an online safety solutions provider.

NOTE: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to Campus Safety.

Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series