When it comes to learning about internet safety, kids can be a tough crowd. It’s boring, mum – why can’t I just play Fortnite and promise not to to chat to anyone or buy anything? The struggle is real. So how do you teach your kids that internet safety is something they have to understand rather than something you tell them to? Easy. Make it into a game.
As with most other things in life, megabucks tech overlords Google have come up with a potential answer. Last summer, the internet giant produced Be Internet Legends, a scheme of work for schools to use to teach all aspects of internet safety to Key Stage 2 kids (teachers: it’s available to order here).
Google also built a related browser-based game for anyone to play. Interland is a super bright, colourful world of geometric robot characters who, in an ‘edutainment’ kind of way, make four keystones of internet safety FUN! Yes, gag me with a spoon etc but stay with us.
Here’s Google’s explanation:
‘As more young users come online, we aim to help make digital safety knowledge as accessible as possible. That’s why we built Interland, a free, adventure-packed web-based game that lets kids put fundamental lessons of digital safety into practice in a way they enjoy learning.’
Sounds good, doesn’t it? And it is, mostly.
The four games are based around the concepts that make up the Internet Legends Code, and each takes around ten or fifteen minutes to complete.
First up, the Kind Kingdom where ‘vibes of all kinds get shared – for better or for worse’. This is a platform-style game in which you use the arrow keys to travel around the landscape handing out Likes and other emoji-style encouragements to the unhappy characters – Cybernauts – you meet along the way (which earns you points). They’re miserable because of a group of big yellow cyberbullies who also populate the land, being mean to everyone. By ‘reporting’ the cyberbullies with the loudspeakers you pick up en route, you send them off to the internet headmaster in the sky and earn yourself points and access to different levels. Once you reach the end, you’re declared ‘Internet Kind’ – the final page outlining your skills as a Positive Influence, a Bully Blocker and a Righteous Reporter.
Obviously, the language here is a bit try-hard as Google try to appeal to a broad age range but the children we played with didn’t bat an eyelid as they jumped straight in. Kind Kingdom is an excellent way to teach kids basic respect for others online using those familiar symbols found all over social media. Yes, the target audience for Interland will be too young for official social media accounts but which under-13 year old doesn’t have an emoji pencil case? Is it a good game though? Our testers said it was fun enough – it’ll keep the kids entertained for a short while, just long enough to get the message across.
Second up is Reality River, a lush landscape honed from bright reds and blues in which you have to traverse the river by answering questions right. The content of this one is aimed at slightly older kids, as it asks them some quite tricky questions (for example, to identify an authentic email address from a dodgy-looking one). Ten correct answers gets you across the river to the other side, but nothing really bad happens if you answer incorrectly – a little splash and a few points lost, but then you’re back on the path for another try. Once you’ve reached the other shore, you’re declared ‘Internet Alert’, with skills as a Phisher Dismisser, Scam Slammer and Truth Sleuth. Again, with the edutainment language but again, this is our hang-up over that of the intended audience.
Although some of the questions in Reality River are a wee bit difficult (we played all the games and found this one to be the trickiest), they’re a smart way to open up a conversation with your child as to why someone might be trying to scam you. That’s never an easy chat to have with your kids so anything that helps here is more than welcome.
On to Mindful Mountain! This zone is all about being careful when sharing information – the intro describes ‘the mountainous town centre of Interland [as] a place where everyone mingles and crosses paths. But you must be very aware about what you share and with whom. Information travels at the speed of light and there’s an oversharer among the Internauts you know’.
Each round gives you a piece of information you have to only share with a certain group – colour-coded to represent friends, family, school mates etc. The way this is visualised is really clever. The board is set with the different colour groups scattered across, amid mirrors. It’s up to you to move your information along the board until you’re confident it’ll only hit the audience you intend. The information includes selfies, medical information, passwords, credit card details – all the usual suspects, and really relevant everyday stuff.
Here is Interland at its best. Mindful Mountain was probably our favourite zone as it illustrates so clearly what happens when you share without thinking (damn those oversharers!). At the end, you’re declared ‘Internet Sharp’ – a Savvy Sharer, a Patient Poster and an Informed Internaut.
The final zone you reach is the Tower of Treasure, which is unlocked leaving the Internaut’s valuables in danger. You have to outrun the hacker to build an untouchable password by collecting blocks to form a hack-resistant password. This round is a typical 3D endless running game which kids (and parents stuck at a PlaySpace…) will be familiar with if they already play games like Temple Run. There are three rounds in which you have to collect lower case and upper case letters, and special characters in order that you can form an all-important super secure password. The landscape is scattered with jutting out rocks to jump over and walls to swerve around – if you misjudge your path then you lose blocks and a menacing hacker zooms in to scoop them up.
At the end of each round, you get to pick a word made from the letters, Countdown stylee, each one contributing to your final password. Again, it’s a light yet helpful way to start conversations about passwords and how important it is to keep safe and secure. The end of the game declares you ‘Internet Strong’ – a Super Secure Data Defender and Password Wizard.
Once you’ve completed all four zones, Interland announces your final score and confirms you are, in fact, an Internet Legend (it’s official if Google says it, right?), and gives you a certificate to download. Now all you have to do is make the printer work…
We’ve been a little snarky at the more edutainment elements of Interland but that’s us Brits. Our testers – seven and ten year-olds brought up on screens from birth – didn’t mind the fluffier elements of the game’s trappings as the variety of different gameplay (quizzes, endless running etc) was both familiar and engaging. Interland is a good, free, hands-on way to underline a few different internet safety concepts in a way your kids won’t reject, plus gives parents the perfect way in to talk about some one of the trickier elements of online safety. We recommend it – hey, you may even learn a few things yourself. Did anyone really look at all those GDPR newsletters and cookie settings? Exactly.
A final note. Check if your school is already using the Be Internet Legends scheme of work for Key Stage 2, as Interland goes hand-in-hand with the concepts already introduced there. As we said earlier, you can point teachers to download the resources here. We sense-checked Be Internet Legends with a primary school teacher who said it looked very promising in an area that definitely needs more resource – here’s the basics.
Be Internet Legends
1. BE INTERNET ALERT
Check It’s For Real
People and situations online aren’t always what they seem. Internet Legends know how to tell the difference between what’s real and what’s not.
Spot the Signs of a Scam
If messages about ‘winning’ or getting something for ‘free’ feel too good to be true, they probably are.
Things getting too personal?
Ask yourself, why would someone have private information about you?
Always think critically before doing anything online – and learn to trust your intuition. Be on your guard for phishing attempts – which are efforts to steal information (such as login or account details) by pretending to be someone you know in an email, text, or other forms of online communication.
2. BE INTERNET SECURE
Protect Your Stuff
Personal privacy and security are as important online as they are in the real world. Keeping valuable information safe helps children avoid damaging their devices, reputations and relationships.
Create a Strong Password
Make it memorable, but don’t use personal information, such as names or birthdays. Use a mix of uppercase letters, lowercase letters, symbols and numbers. R3pl@ce le++ers wit# sYmb0ls & n^mb3rs 1ike Thi$.
Switch It Up
Never use the same password on different sites. Create a few different variations of the same password for different accounts.
3. BE INTERNET KIND
Respect Each Other
The internet amplifies everything: good things seem more exciting, bad things seem much worse and can hurt – a lot. A great rule to live by online, as well as off, is ‘treat others as you would like to be treated yourself’. Children can have a positive impact on others and stop bullying in its tracks by refusing to join in.
Set an Example
Be a force for good. Use the power of the internet to be nice, not nasty. Stop the spread of harmful or untrue messages by not passing them on to others. Respect others’ differences.
Lead the way
Block mean, upsetting or inappropriate behaviour online.
Be a Legend. Step in and provide support to those being bullied. Encourage everyone to speak up against, and report, online bullying.
4. BE INTERNET BRAVE
When in Doubt, Discuss
When children come across something they’re not sure about online, they should feel comfortable talking to a trusted adult. Adults can support this by showing they’re open to talking, even about difficult or embarrassing things at home and in the classroom
5. BE INTERNET SHARP
Think Before You Share
Good (and bad) news travels fast online, and children can sometimes find themselves in tricky situations with lasting consequences. But what can they do to prevent this? The answer: understand how to share smartly with those they know – and those they don’t.
Every Word Matters
Treat online communication the same as face-to-face communication. If it isn’t right to say, it isn’t right to post. If in doubt, get guidance on what kind of communication is (and isn’t) OK. Personal details about family, friends – and yourself – should stay private.