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Lesson 5: Digital Risks and Opportunities

Updated: May 6

By the end of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Identify different risks, responsibilities, and opportunities for themselves related to internet and phone use.

  • Understand how to minimize risks, and maximize opportunities.

Overview of Ontario Curriculum Connections in this Lesson

A2: Digital Media Literacy

  • A2.1: Digital Citizenship 

  • A2.2:  Online Safety, Well-being and Etiquette 

  • A2.4: Forms, Conventions and Techniques 

B1: Oral and Non-Verbal Communication

  • B1.1:Effective listening skills

  • B1.2:Listening strategies for comprehension

  • B1.3:Speaking purposes and strategies

C1: Knowledge about Texts

  • C1.2: Text forms and genres

  • C1.3: Text patterns and features

  • C1.4: Visual elements of texts

  • C1.6: Point of view

D2: Creating Texts 

  • D2.1 Producing Drafts

  • D2.2 Printing, Handwriting, Wordprocessing

  • D2.3 Voice

  • D2.4 Point of View and Perspective

  • D2.5 Revision

  • D2.6 Editing and proofreading

Background Information for Teachers: Risk and Opportunity

The Internet is not without its risks. Learning what risks exist online, how to avoid them, how to assess and minimize the potential harms that can come from exposure to online risks, is part of becoming digitally literate. Plus, digital risk management has a major upside. Learning to navigate the web safely, enables students to benefit from the many opportunities that can be accessed online, including access to information, to academic opportunities, to networks of friends and family, to platforms that enable creative, multimodal production, to games, and to goods and services that they need. This lesson (which can be broken into a few smaller segments) introduces students to the idea of risks and opportunities, which is an evidence-informed framework used by researchers who study youth activities online (Stoilova et al., 2022). Informed by the work of Dr. Sonia Livingstone at London School of Economics and her colleagues who lead the Global Kids Online project, the Digital Futures for Children research group, and the 5Rights Foundation, this lesson centers evidence on the skills, strategies, dispositions and supports that enable young people to use the Internet safely, responsibly, and in ways that maximize opportunities while minimizing risks. 

Canadian teachers may also be interested in complementary scholarship led by Dr. Kara Brisson-Boivin at focused on various issues related to children’s online privacy, digital rights, and safety (, 2022; 2023). The Young Canadians in a Wireless World Survey is the longest-running national survey on youth digital media literacies practices. Several focused reports are available that include results on youth experiences of online meanness and cruelty, how youth understand online consent and use strategies to protect their privacy, and on young people’s experiences of harmful and discomforting content online.  

Report on Online Meanness and Cruelty

Report on Online Privacy and Consent

Report on Encountering Harmful and Discomforting Content Online

Adolescence is about experiencing risk and learning to manage it. The faster we learn to bicycle, the larger the audiences we play instruments to, the more complicated the scientific tasks we challenge ourselves with, the farther we travel from home… the greater the risk or perception of risk. 

The web isn’t so different. The more we participate online, the more likely it is we will face sticky situations online. In fact, evidence on the risks of online participation is quite clear. More Internet use does predict more exposure to information, images or situations online that would be considered risky, troubling or disconcerting (Livingstone et al, 2018; Livingstone et al., 2021). However, more and more diverse online participation also predicts higher levels of digital skill, including skills related to information search, and to the critical evaluation of online information. Students with better digital literacies skills also tend to have developed skills that enable them to control and mitigate any harms they might face. These students are more likely to block unwanted attention, and delete messages they don’t like such as those intended to cyberbully, or that include unwanted sexual content (e.g., sexting). 

When children and teens know what to do independently, and/or feel that they can go to a trusted adult such as a parent or teacher to report and manage their experience and their feelings, they may also experience online risks as less upsetting or harmful (Livingstone et al., 2021; Rodrigues-de-dios et al., 2018). Conversely, this same study shows that youth with lower digital skills tend to experience unwanted images or messages as more upsetting and therefore as more harmful. 

Although more research is needed to fully understand how, why and in what ways digital literacies skills prepare young people to manage online risks, the take-away from this important line of scholarship seems to be that restricting access to web-based activities for fear of risk exposure will not likely enable young people to become more resilient online; it will likely reduce their access to online opportunities, however. 

The way forward seems to be in creating opportunities for young people to learn about potential risks in a safe and supportive environment with trusted adults who can provide them with evidence-informed advice about what to do when they get into sticky situations online. Teachers should also be aware that children who live in disadvantaged circumstances and who are exposed to a range of stressors or vulnerabilities offline may also be more vulnerable online (Rodrigues-de-dios et al., 2018). In a report for UNICEF, Stoilova et al (2021) write that: 

“Children’s overall well-being seems to affect how they engage with the internet. For example, a lower level of happiness and life satisfaction is found to be associated with exposure to negative online content, cyber-hate, discrimination and violent extremism, but we do not know enough about why this is the case. Children who experience violence, neglect, physical punishment, psychological victimization, parental conflict, sexual harassment and offline solicitation are more likely to also be exposed to sexual solicitation online, but again it is unclear exactly how or why this happens” (p. 8) 

Teachers must, therefore, situate any considerations and discussions of risk and opportunity in broader understandings of the ways their students may be vulnerable. Targeted attention and supports for the most vulnerable youth may be warranted in schools in relation to online activities — but at present, there is little research to inform what those digital supports might look like. 

What do we know about online risks for Canadian youth?

In a national survey of Canadian students in grades 4-11 by (2022), 21% of participants said they have received discomforting content (which they define as any content that makes the viewer or receiver feel uncomfortable) online. They were most likely to respond by telling a parent or guardian (57%), blocking the person who sent it (55%), telling a friend (23%), telling a teacher (20%) or reporting it to the app/platform/website (13%). Older participants (in grades 7-11) were asked about the types of discomforting content they have seen or received. Thirty-two percent reported seeing pornography without having looked for it, through pop ups, on search engines or because it was shared to them by a friend. Forty-seven percent reported seeing racist or sexist content every week. Twenty-eight percent of youth who self-identified as LGBTQ+ reported seeing or receiving discomforting content; for youth with disabilities, the number was even higher — 41%. 

These figures mean that some students (likely 1 in 5 children) in your grade 4, 5 or 6 classroom have seen or received content, while online, that has made them feel uncomfortable. Others may not have personally experienced troubling situations online, but they may be aware of what is possible. Still others may be quite naive about the kinds of risks that they might encounter online. 

Teachers often feel uncomfortable discussing the kinds of sticky situations that kids can find themselves in, in part because the lines between whether these topics should be addressed at school or at home have, historically, been very blurry. The new Ontario curriculum however is clear in its focus on child digital rights, and on the importance of teaching students how to navigate online environments safely. The curriculum also emphasizes the need to teach students about how to support their own well-being and that of others in digital environments. 

Although the series of paired poems that are centered in this lesson will not have captured every possible scenario of risk or opportunity, the intention is to open up conversations for your students as they vicariously consider Teagan’s choices and experiences. While protecting children’s digital rights to privacy and consent around what they choose to share, the selected texts and accompanying activities are meant to create conditions for the exploration of hypothetical circumstances that may organically surface similar or related experiences for students. It will be important for teachers to listen without judgment and to ensure that students feel safe in sharing whatever text-to-self connections may surface. Evidence suggests that children are less likely to divulge information about online harms or difficulties to teachers than to parents or friends — but some students will. 

Remember that if any student divulges information that falls within our professional duty to report suspected abuse, neglect or maltreatment, please follow the recommendations of the Ontario College of Teachers.  

Teachers may also want to provide parents with information about this lesson before it is taught. Parents may benefit from having language and strategies that align with the intention of this lesson so that they can support their children in navigating online environments ethically, and safely too. Emerging evidence suggests that when parents use active mediation strategies with their children such as talking about websites to use and those to avoid, sharing the strategies they use to overcome online challenges, solving online problems together, setting expectations for what their children should do if they ever find themselves feeling uncomfortable or upset by something that happens online — children tend to feel more prepared, supported and in charge of themselves when they’re online. Research by Mediasmarts (2022, p. 24) has shown that in Canadian households where there is a rule about reporting content that makes children feel uncomfortable to a parent, children do just that. They talk about what happened with their parents. Parents may benefit from knowing that they have a very important role to play in supporting their children’s awareness and skills in response to potential online risks. Here is a message that can be modified for parents in your community and shared in a weekly newsletter or in an email to families about this lesson. 

Dear Parent, Caregiver, and Guardians,

Over the course of the next several weeks, students will be thinking critically about digital risk and opportunities as part of our Digital Media Literacy Unit.

One in five children, by grade six, have seen or received content while online that has made them feel uncomfortable . Others may not have personally experienced troubling situations online, but they may have heard about them.

Research suggests that increased online participation predicts higher levels of digital skill. This includes skills related to information searches, and to the critical evaluation of online information. Children with better digital literacies skills also tend to have developed skills that enable them to control and mitigate any harms they might face such as blocking users, and deleting or reporting unwanted content. When children and teens know what to do independently, and/or feel that they can go to a trusted adult such as a parent/guardian or teacher to report and manage their experience and their feelings, they may also experience online risks as less upsetting or harmful.

Please discuss with your child what they are learning about, and what role you would like to play in supporting the exploration of their digital lives. The majority of children learn from their parents/guardians how to deal with issues of online meanness and cruelty .

Emerging evidence suggests that when parents/guardians use active mediation strategies with their children, such as the following, kids feel more prepared, supported, and in charge of themselves when they’re online: 

  • talking about websites to use and those to avoid, 

  • sharing the strategies they use to overcome online challenges, 

  • solving online problems together, and 

  • setting expectations for what their children should do if they ever find themselves feeling uncomfortable or upset by something that happens online. 

Lesson 5 Activities 

5A. Exploring Risk and Opportunity in the Online World

In Seeking Draven, Teagan has many interactions with her phone and the internet. Using the following poems, students explore the variety of risks and opportunities that Teagan experiences. 

Materials: Scraps of Paper, pencils, tape


Poems are organized in sections.

Each section includes paired poems. Section 2 includes 3 poems; Section 3 includes 4 poems; most sections include 2 poems. Teachers can assign sections to students as a way to differentiate the activity or allow students to partner up and choose sections freely.

Differentiation Strategies: This chart may be shared with students as a way to identify the key opportunity and risk that each poem in the sets address. This can support younger students’ understandings of the poem so that, in pairs, they can get more quickly into discussions of the opportunities and risks that Teagan experiences.


For older students or for students who are looking for a challenge, teachers could leave the Opportunity and Risk columns blank so that students would work first to identify the risks and opportunities before discussing what these experiences mean. 


Literacy Topic





Search & Algorithms

Lock Picking Level 1

Learning New Knowledge  



Teagan’s Snowball

Algorithmic targeting based on interests

Filter bubbles



Fomo 1

Connecting/Belonging through access



Fomo 2

Connecting/Belonging by knowing the codes

FOMO (even if you know the codes)

Digital Lie


Digital dishonesty


Social Media Networking

Friend of a Friend (1)

Affirmation and Connection

Negative Comments/Trolling

Giving information about location and activities through selfies


Friend of a Friend (2)

Affirmation and Connection

Seeking affirmation from people who may not be real friends

Friend of a Friend (3)

Potential to share work and interests with likeminded people


The Nature of Existence

Belonging and connection

Confidence in one’s place and/or identity


Social Media Sharing 1

Seeking Draven (4)

Artistic Expression/ New ideas-input / Support

Trolls/Vulnerability in relation to judgment by followers


Seeking Draven (6)

Connection with an intended person or group around shared activities or interests

Visibility by others who might cyberbully


Social Media Sharing 2

Paying Attention (10)

Growing network, entertainment, gaining social capital 

Unwanted Attention


Risky Behaviour (1)

Sharing in online youth culture with a group of friends

Interacting with people whose intentions or interests are hidden; underestimating the risks associated with online interactions


Social Media — Consuming

Paying Attention (2)

Entertainment, social cohesion, participating in youth culture

Online meanness,  desensitization, lost time


Paying Attention (1)

Participating and knowing influencers; youth culture 

Negative body image, mental health

  • Think-pair-share to explore what students have learned about the risk and opportunities of phone, social media, and internet use.

    • Think: Read your paired poems. What do you think Teagan learned from each experience? On a piece of paper, divide the paper in two and write down at least one opportunity and one risk you think Teagan may have learned about from her experiences (3-5 minutes)

    • Pair: Share your chart with students who have the same poems. (5 minutes)

      • Discuss: Are their lists of risks and opportunities the same? How so? How not? Can they come up with any others missed? 

      • Compile the opportunities and risks onto a single page. 

    • Share: Each team sticks their poems and pages on the white board or on a wall. Each team picks someone from their group to read the poem and another to describe the risks and opportunities they discovered through the process. (15 minutes). [Curriculum connections to: Oral Communication; Multimodal expression of Understanding; Language: Vocabulary; Collaboration] 

SELECTION 1: Risks and Opportunities of Online Search and Algorithms

Lock Picking Level 1 (second half)

Finally, I ask to borrow my friend’s phone

Hamina says I have

Two minutes

No more, and to get my own


Ya, ya, soon.

But soon everyone’s gathered around and learning how to pick locks.

It’s easy, so easy, 30 seconds, the video says.

Just take your tension wrench and hold it—NOT TOO HARD.

And take your L-Rake—scritchy scratch smooth like this.

It’s easy, so easy, if you do it right, all you need is everything, and to do it just Right …

I tap the video off and sigh.

Have you tried a screwdriver? Joachim asks.

And we just stare.

What? Sometimes I gotto go pee and my brother locks me out.

Sometimes I REALLY gotta go!

Jab it in and twist.

Teagan’s Snowball

What I like …

That’s what Tab wants to know

And all the likes that Tab collects

Is a rolling snowball that grows:

The drawings of MC Escher,

The secret love of Jet and Petra,

Pink hair, magic forests, climate justice, and things that hoot,

Spell books, and “the world’s largest organism is not what you think,”

Soccer and the Top Ten Goals of All Time.

All these things Tab collects,

A rolling ball I like

Watching grow and gaining speed

And the more I like, the more I like my likes, the bigger the snowball becomes,

Then smashing down, on it goes

An avalanche of like,

An avalanche of mine,

I crash on, crash on


Discussion for Selection 1 Paired Poems

Some questions the students may want to consider include the following:

  • What are the benefits of discovering information online, what might we give up to access the information? Through clicks? Through attention and time? 

  • Why does Tab (the phone) want to know what Teagan likes? Why might this be useful for Teagan? Why might this be a negative? Why does Tab want to learn more about her? Can we be identified by our unique basket of likes and dislikes? Why might that be useful to an advertiser? 

  • What information about our usage gets saved? Where? Who saves it and is the information ever shared? 

SELECTION 2: Internet Codes and FOMO

FOMO (1 of 2)

FOMO means Fear Of Missing Out:

One of the internet codes I’ve just learned so

I can understand friends texting.

And once I learn all the codes

The screens that kept me out will have to let me in.

I won’t miss that chat about that thing

That’s going to happen.

Not like last time.

I will be there


Wag, wag, waggin’.

FOMO (2 of 2)

I see Timmy’s post

About their party.

With their friends

And their presents

And their family

Everyone smiling

Hamina, Joachim, Rebecca smiling

At that thing that was going to happen

In the chat I didn’t miss

But still was not invited to.

I would have got them something

About fungi,

They’re big this year,

But I’d rather not have known it happened

At all.

Digital Lie

Tab says ten is not old enough to use social media.

So I tell Tab


Discussion for Selection 2 Paired Poems

Some questions the students may want to consider include the following:

  • How is the language used on the internet different from language offline. FOMO, IRL, LOL, are codes, or acronyms, used in Seeking Draven. Do you know any others?

  • Here’s a list of common ones. Do you know them all? LOL, TBH, FYI, TL;DR, OMW, IKR, IDK, AMA, ICYMI

  • Who else uses codes? What are they designed to do? What are the pros and cons of codes? How do they keep others out? How can it foster a sense of community and belonging?What are some unhealthy tendencies/thoughts when we don’t hear back from others? 

  • Is digital dishonesty the same as dishonesty offline? How so, how not?  

  • Why is it easier to lie on the internet? What does that mean for you?

SELECTION 3: Internet Friends and Influence

Read the poems “Friend of a Friend 1 to 3” and “The Nature of Existence”. 

Friend of a Friend (1 of 4)

I take a

Selfie on the school steps (girl gotta grind)

Selfie with friends (besties)

Selfie with Dad (that’s his hand)

Selfie in the mirror (new jeans!)

Friends reply


You know it



So cute. Heart the flowers. (shared!)


I wasn’t cute

Until Tab said so


I am Amazing Awesome Teagan!


Try some makeup

Who is this …?

Is a friend-of-a-friend a friend?

Friend of a Friend (2 of 4)

I erase my selfies.

Try some makeup.

OMG thank you. I will. (follow)

Friend-of-a-friend follows back!


Friend of a Friend (3 of 4)

I have a drawing I want to share

Of fungi fins—it’s silly really,

But my friend-of-a-friend is there,

A monster inside my ring.

Maybe I’m not ready really

To dare.

The Nature of Existence

Now I exist.

My account is private.

No one knows I exist.

I follow friends. Hamina follows me.

I have a follower.

Now I exist.

Discussion for Selection 3 Paired Poems

Some questions the students may want to consider include the following:

  • How did Teagan connect with someone outside her immediate network even if her profile was private? 

  • What are the differences between a friend offline and an internet friend? 

  • Can internet friends be just as close to us? What’s different about the relationship?

  • What is a friend of a friend? What do friend of a friend of a friend relationships on the internet mean to privacy? What happened in the poem Friend of a Friend 3? 

  • Have you ever felt more hesitant to do something because someone was watching? What does this mean about our willingness to take risks while on social media? What about in the classroom? Do you ever worry someone might post what we say or do? Or is there a risk that our worries online filter into our offline behaviour?

  • Teagan feels like she exists when she has a follower. Why would she feel that way?

SELECTION 4: Participation and Trolls

Seeking Draven (4 of 15)

I clean my room

To set the scene

And make a video for Draven.

I dance along with that song we liked cleaning to.

I hope Draven will see it and follow.

A friend likes

My first like.

I’ve imagined this

Like I’ve imagined

A first kiss.

I’m happy

For a sec

But they could have hearted,

A like

Feels more like a peck on the cheek

From Dad.

Seeking Draven (6 of 15)

I text Draven.

My friends say I was trolled

On that post with me dancing to that song we like

To clean to.

Did you see?

Why aren’t you here to help me?

You know what trolled means, right?

It’s hard to explain.

But remember when you sang for that high school talent show? And I said you were good.

What if I had said

You think you’re pretty hot, I bet,

Like every girl in the whole school is into you, I bet,

Just because you can lip sync Katy Perry.





What if I had said



You’d be trolled.

Discussion for Selection 4 Paired Poems

Some questions the students may want to consider include the following:

  • What was Teagan seeking with the post? 

  • How did she feel when her post was liked? How does it make you feel when someone likes something you made? 

  • What are the ethics of trolling?  How does it work on the internet? Is trolling legal? 

  • Why do we laugh at other people? What do you think Teagan should do in this instance? Have you ever felt hurt/upset/insulted by a post on a SM platform? What happened? (or offline?) How did you resolve it?  

  • Is there a troll in all of us? Are all trolls humans? 

SELECTION 5: Participation and Consent

Paying Attention (10 of 13)

I hear the grind of skateboard wheels before the





Of the boy falling down the stairs.

I laugh at the boy who falls off the skateboard

And repeat the funny meme,

Didn’t need that spine anyway.      

And because

Someone was videoing

And because

That someone puts the video into the video of the boy falling off the skateboard that has been viewed

A hundred million times.

And because

The video within the video of the boy falling off the skateboard is a big thing.





Risky Behaviour (1 of 4)

At recess my friends laugh at their phones.

They are on Omingle

Meeting random strangers.

I know what Dad would think.

But it’s not like getting into random cars.

The strangers can’t hurt us

With our phones between.

Discussion for Selection 5 Paired Poems

Some questions the students may want to consider include the following:

  • What does it mean to go viral? Is it a good thing? When is it not?

  • When Teagan’s friends use Omingle, she suggests the strangers can’t hurt them – is that true? 

  • Do you think the boy who fell off the skateboard gave his consent to have the video of his fall posted? 

  • What is consent and why is it important? 

  • Is consent different online versus offline? 

  • Did Teagan consent to being filmed and having it posted? How so, how not? 

  • What does tagging mean? Why do you think she does it? How does that make her more discoverable and what are the opportunities and risks of being so?

  • What does Teagan’s increased popularity come at the expense of? 

  • What types of online meanness can the students come up with? (Examples include: name calling, threatening, spreading rumours, sharing embarrassing video/images, discrimination or race, religion, ethnicity, ability, gender, sexuality.)

SELECTION 6: Influencers and Mental Health

Paying Attention (2 of 13)

At lunch—cheesy pasta—we chit and chat and buzz and bump with each other

Half on our phones

Half eating.

I wonder what the person behind the avatar of the




Was thinking when they posted that video of the boy falling off the skateboard.

Looks like it hurt.

The laughter was mean,

But funny too,

When they said that silly meme,

                                 Didn’t need that spine anyway.

Paying Attention (1 of 13)

I click on the video of the girl with the too big eyes.

She sways, snap, snap, snaps.

Her hearts grow to include thousands.

I add a piece of mine.

The clip is fifteen seconds long.

Long enough

For me to realize

With my camera reversed

That my eyes are too


I didn’t know.

I search for a filter to fix my eyes.

Discussion for Selection 6 Paired Poems

Some questions the students may want to consider include the following:

  • Why do we post anything on the internet? 

  • What do we need to think about before we make a post, particularly a video or image post?

  • Social media contains Influencers, people who are marketing their own brand who seek to ‘influence’ users. If the video of the ‘girl with the too big eyes’ is an influencer, then what is she doing? 

  • What happens to Teagan? And what are the risks? Are influencers positive or negative? (consider risk to mental health, body image, unhealthy comparisons.)

  • Teagan searches for a filter to ‘fix’ her eyes. What’s a filter? 

  • How do you know a photo or video is true vs fake? Why do these technologies exist? What are the risks to self esteem, safety, misinformation? 

Lesson 5 Reflection: Bringing It Together

This lesson has explored different elements of the network that can be more positive and negative. Knowledge of these attributes can allow students to maximize the positive and manage the negative. 

As a class read the poem:

What I Don’t Like

Here’s what Tab likes that I don’t like

That people like pics of me

that are not really me.

That I can’t stop checking,

for what I am missing.

That it lures me,

makes me streak.

Takes bits of my heart

and never gives as many bits back.

That I looked for the meme

when that boy fell.

That a screen can bring

monsters into my ring.

That a thousand friends

cannot replace one brother.

Still no reply from



  • Which of the negative impacts discussed in the paired poems do the students see in this poem? 

  • What strategies can the class come up with to mitigate the risks? 

5B. Assessment:

Using “What I Don’t Like” as an example, students write a ‘dueling’ poem of ‘What I Like’ demonstrating the application of the ideas from the lessons on risks and opportunities.

There are many different styles of poetry. Students can take very different approaches. Here are some ideas for how to write a dueling poem.

Start by brainstorming all the things you like about the internet, all of the opportunities and positive aspects of being online. Then:

1. Consider writing your poem by following the structure of the poem “What I Don’t Like”.

This would mean paying attention to its metre and repetition. Metre is the number and pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables that gives the verse structure. The poem also includes instances of repetition, but ‘What I Don’t Like’ and ‘Seeking Draven’ in general, are examples of free verse, and not highly structured, so don’t feel as though you need to adhere too closely. Use your ‘ear’ to determine what sounds right in the context of the dueling poem. Here is an example of the first few lines of a dueling poem:   


Here’s what Tab likes that I like too

Those worlds at fingertips

No price for the tickets.


Note how I didn’t change the structure, or number of syllables in each line. I used a near rhyme rather than the repetition of the same word used in the original poem. I’m betting you can do better!

2. A second option is to incorporate “What I Don’t Like” into your poem. This might mean coming up with a response to each line, set off for comparison or commentary. For instance,

What I Don’t Like

What I Like

Here’s what Tab likes that I don’t like


That people like pics of me

that are not really me.




Here’s what Tab likes that I like too


At least I feel seen

Not how it’s always being.

That I can’t stop checking,

for what I am missing.




Not missing much

When I know about such and such and such


Poetry is very subjective and how you choose to write your poem may be very different from either of these options. Have fun, and play.


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