Cyber Safety: Is technology safe for your child?
As parents, we certainly can’t be with our children constantly to monitor the potentially inappropriate material they may encounter. But we can help them learn to make good choices. You can take advantage of teachable moments when watching a TV commercial or show, viewing a website, movie, or discussing the lyrics to a song to compare media content and messages to your family values.
Cyber safety is an important parent-child discussion to revisit frequently with your child, from elementary school through high school. Experts warn that children are most vulnerable to online dangers while in their own home. While many potential dangers are filtered so students can’t access them at schools, parents sometimes forget that children may have direct access to inappropriate sites at home unless direct action is taken.
What you can do to keep your child safe
All Minnetonka School iPads have built-in filtering software blocking access to inappropriate sites regardless of whether the device is at school or off campus. However, children often have complete, unrestricted access to inappropriate sites on other devices such as home computers and personal cell phones. Experts strongly suggest installing software to filter and block inappropriate content on your wireless home network.
Filters can be set to block Internet access completely or block certain sites like pornography, social media, and gaming. Filters also allow you to completely control when access is open/closed to such sites. These same tools allow you to control any wireless device, whether it is a laptop, a smartphone with a web browser, an iPod touch, and more. Without any filtering software at home, a user can get to any site on any device, including a desktop computer.
Some possible filters to consider include OpenDNS (here's a short, two minute instructional video for you describing how easy this is to do with free OpenDNS software), SafeEyes, MobiCip and Net Nanny, or if you have a newer computer with Microsoft Windows or Mac iOS, the software is built right into the operating system- it’s called Parental Controls and there may be no need to buy a supplement.
Take the time to set up some content filters for your children today. Kids are naturally curious and won't filter themselves unless taught. Viewing portrayals of risky behavior can make it seem "normal" when it is not the norm. Often, the reality of negative consequences is left out, leaving kids with a skewed impression of normal behavioral standards, as well as unresolved questions and emotions about the implications of explicit content they don't fully grasp.
One of the quickest, best ways to put a filter on a cell phone is to use Restrictions. On both Apple and Droid devices, Restrictions allow you to create a separate password from your child's screen lock and limit web content, app installations, purchases, ratings for movies/apps/explicit language, and much more. The default setting for websites that are restricted through Apple iOS is pretty strict, but seems to offer the best option at this time. You can add a few sites to a whitelist, but your child may need to go to a desktop computer with a more robust filter, or need you to enter in your Restrictions password to temporarily access some sites.
Curbi is a great option for parents to filter and monitor their child's Droid or iPhone/iPad/iPod and provides valuable data to spark conversations around the use of technology. Curbi filters both cellular and WiFi connections. Read more about Curbi here. Some phone companies like Kajeet specifically offer filtered phones for children with a variety of additional control options, but their filters don't cover WiFi.
Some cell phone providers may offer filtering services parents can choose to activate, but these are limited to cellular connections and don't include WiFi, and may not work on 4G networks. To learn more, simply Google your service provider with the words "parental controls." Carriers may offer services to monitor text messages and other features.
There are also services you can purchase that will help you filter your child’s phone such as SafeEyes, MobiCip and Net Nanny, but it is important to realize that these products only filter the internet when accessed through that app. So if your child accesses a webpage through Instagram or Facebook, it bypasses this app.
Other filters to consider
- Turn on the free tools within Google and YouTube to activate stricter filters on web, image, and video searches.
- TV cable companies offer filtering services as well. Again, simply Google your provider along with the words "parental controls" to learn how to access these features.
Other Important Parenting Tips
- Maintain open communication with your child about technology use, regularly asking your child about his or her computer activities.
- Ask to get a tour of the sites your child visits.
- Proactively set guidelines for computer use at your house, as well as when they are with friends. Print off, discuss, and sign a Common Sense Family Media Agreement.
- Know your child’s passwords. This enables you to gain access to their e-mail, social networking sites, etc. in case of an emergency.
- Google family members to be aware of your cyber footprint online. Set up a Google Alert for each family member for free.
- Anything we do or post online creates a digital record, often called your "Cyber Footprint." Nothing online is totally private, even if you intend it to be. Once digitized, it can be saved, sent and re-posted elsewhere. Take a look at Protect My Rep.
- A good rule of thumb: If you don’t want a parent, teacher, principal, future employer or college admissions office to know something, don’t post it online. Ask yourself, "Would Grandma approve?"
- "Friends" aren’t always who they say they are; undercover police and pedophiles pretend to be kids online. Encourage your child to only be friends online with individuals they have met in person. Watch iKeepSafe.org’s Faux Pas the Cat (Elementary Students) or discuss current news stories about this topic with Secondary Students.
- Be cautious when posting personal information online. This includes: full name, address, phone number, email, cell phone, checking in on social media sites, where you are meeting friends or where you hang out. Discuss how easy it is for someone to find you based on what you post online.
- Regularly check privacy settings on all commonly used sites and networks. Ignoring privacy settings on sites like Instagram and Facebook means your photos, contact information, interests, and possibly even cell phone number and GPS location could be shared with more than a billion people.
- Cyberbullying (threatening or harassing another individual through technology), is a growing concern for today’s youth. It takes many forms, such as forwarding a private email, photo, or text message for others to see, starting a rumor, or sending a threatening or aggressive message, often anonymously. Talk with your child about not partaking in this behavior, and encourage her/him to report it to an adult. Some videos online to help kids understand this include Ad Council Commercials Talent Show (Elementary and Middle School Students) or Kitchen (High School Students), as well as NetSmartz.org’s videos on Broken Friendship (Secondary Students) or You Can’t Take It Back (Secondary Students). ThatsNotCool.com is a good resource about textual harassment and sexting.
- Common Sense Media has great reviews of movies, music, apps, video games, and more. Sign up for their weekly newsletter to stay in the loop of the latest teen tech trends.
- Watch Minnetonka Parenting with Purpose Technology Presentation for Grade 6-12 Families (October 2014)
- Watch Minnetonka Parenting with Purpose Technology Presentation for Grade PreK-5 Families (January 2015, please note that first half hour wasn't recorded)
- Top 10 Tips for Tech Healthy Kids: Cyber Safety Resources
- Protect My Rep
- Net Cetera: Chatting with Kids About Being Online This guide published by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers parents practical, developmental targeted tips to guide their children in navigating the online world.
- McGruff Online Safety for Kids
- PBS Parenting in an Internet Age
- Net Smartz
- Wired Safety Website – Parent Guide and contract
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