How digital safety supports student mental health

As K-12 schools continue to integrate more online learning, digital safety has expanded beyond traditional fears about malicious cyber-attacks or inappropriate websites. New safety concerns have arisen as red-flag behaviors – that might have previously observed in the classroom – are now happening in online settings and are not as readily visible. For this reason, digital safety now includes a new responsibility: mental health.   

Digital safety tools have adapted accordingly, becoming a vital part of comprehensive mental health support systems for schools. To enable the full power of digital safety tools, schools must understand what features to look for and how these features align with the components of a comprehensive mental health program.  

What are the components of a comprehensive digital safety system? 

To start, every comprehensive digital safety tool provides solutions in three major categories: threat protection, monitoring, and classroom management.  

Content filtering and threat protection: Content filtering and threat protection are the traditional scope of digital safety software. Content filtering ensures that students can only access helpful and appropriate content, while threat protection software blocks malicious users and viruses. Robust digital filtering software uses artificial intelligence systems to maintain accuracy and completeness, works in many languages, and blocks a broad spectrum of intrusive and harmful threats. 

Keystroke monitoring and alerts: Keystroke monitoring is meant to shine a light on what students are searching and saying online. The software continuously monitors what students are typing when they are connected in a digital classroom or when using school devices. The goal is to flag comments or behaviors that could signal a student is at risk for cyber bullying, violence, emotional problems, self-harm, or other destructive behaviors. Effective monitoring software monitors student activity across several channels, complies with all federal laws protecting student privacy, and uses artificial intelligence to stay current with language norms and cultural references. 

Classroom management: A third component of a comprehensive safety solution is real-time management of student computer use in on-site, hybrid, or distance learning classrooms. Classroom management software, like LanSchool, includes features that monitor student screens, allowing teachers to easily see what students are searching for and viewing during class. Classroom management solutions also provide chat features, so teachers can easily address social emotional needs in the moment.  

What are the components of a comprehensive mental health program? 

There are four fundamental activities involved in supporting student mental health: promoting mental wellness, preventing serious problems before they happen, intervening at the earliest signs of a problem, and providing professional treatment when social, emotional, or behavioral problems impair student success.  

The National Center for Safe and Supportive Learning divides these four activities into three tiers comprising a comprehensive school-based mental health program: universal mental health promotion, selective services for students at risk for a mental health problem and indicated services for students already experiencing some level of impairment from a social or emotional problem. 

The three tiers of a comprehensive mental health program for schools.
The National Center for Safe and Supportive Learning 

How do digital safety tools support a comprehensive mental health program? 

In a school, safety software extends a comprehensive mental health program to the digital world where students are spending more of their learning and free time. 

Content filtering and threat protection: Content filtering software plays a critical role in universal school-wide prevention by protecting students from online stressors such as social media. Filtering also keeps students from viewing content that models or encourages negative emotions or maladaptive behaviors, such as extremist groups or violent entertainment. Threat protection prevents malware and cyber attacks that can shut down school networks and cut off the important link between teachers and students, particularly when learning online during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, the FBI issued a warning to all K-12 schools regarding an expected increase in ransomware attacks, recommending that school IT teams take extra precautions to secure their networks. Filtering and threat protection software seeks to preemptively address digital dangers before they can affect students and their mental health. 

Keystroke monitoring and alerts: By monitoring student device use and alerting educators to potential dangers, digital safety monitoring tools allow educators to spot potential problems early and intervene before they develop into more serious problems. This allows for selective interventions when needed, but also provides a base level of universal school-wide prevention. Sometimes a student simply knowing this type of software is in place can prevent risky online behaviors from ever occurring.  

In some situations, these tools can even be used to support the third tier of a comprehensive mental health program, indicated interventions. AI-powered monitoring systems can help measure progress or compliance with individual goals and interventions as needed. Keep in mind that digital monitoring tools should not be confused with mental health screening tools or mental health monitoring systems. They do not help zero in on a diagnosis or track specific symptoms of mental health problems. Instead, they can draw attention to behaviors or thoughts that may potentially signal a problem. Interpreting those behaviors and thoughts still lies with educators to determine if a child is at risk. The full value of a digital monitoring tool ultimately depends on the power and effectiveness of the school mental health intervention system and student intervention team.  

Classroom management: The final component of a digital safety program is overseeing and supervising student computer use in real-time. This is the crucial safety role filled by classroom management software. It allows teachers to do what they are best at – guiding student learning. Features that allow teachers to view student monitors and block URLs protect students from inappropriate content. Additionally, messaging tools allow teachers to communicate privately with students and provide support if their computer use shows any signs of developing problems. This type of software most commonly supports universal school-wide prevention, but it can also be used in some situations for selective interventions. 

The adults in the room 

Just like every other place in a school, the digital classroom requires adult supervision and support to help children thrive in that environment. Teachers need a way to be right there in that “digital room” with students. But the digital room is much bigger, more populated, and more hidden than any other place in a school, putting it beyond the capacity of any person or group of people to supervise. That is where digital safety and classroom management software comes in. By eliminating digital threats and unwanted content and monitoring students’ digital use, this software allows educators to keep students safer by being the adults in the room.  


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