Protecting What Matters Most

Crosspost of an email sent out to all the parents in my school:

In my role as computer teacher, I hear all about the new gadgets kids receive for birthdays or holidays.  In my ex-role of AInternet Safetyssistant Principal, I’ve dealt with arguments over rumors on FaceBook, emotionally charged conversations over multi-player online games, cyberbulllying, sexting, and the like. With all the new access to the Internet and everything (good and bad) that comes with it, I feel it is a good idea for parents to know a bit about how to keep their kids safe while online.  Below are some guidelines on how to accomplish this task.
In my mind, the single most important thing you can do to keep your kids safe is to have regular, frank conversations with your kids. It’s not that you don’t trust THEM, rather it’s like with driving – it’s the OTHER guy you need to worry about.  You and your child just need to work together to keep them safe, since that is your number one job as a parent.  You will help them make wise choices, and they will help you accomplish that goal by keeping you informed about what they are doing online.  Transparency and Trust.
After reflecting on what I’ve learned from discussions with School Resource Officers, and what I can find through my own research, here are 6 tips to keep kids safer when online:
  1. When possible, create your own password-protected profile on your child’s device.  Set parental controls from here.
  2. Kids should NEVER friend/accept/talk to etc. anyone online whom they do not know (and like) personally.
  3. Have frequent discussions with your child about their online experience.  What are they talking about?  Who did they Friend today?  What game are they playing?  What’s it rated?  Whom are they playing with?
  4. Insist that you have copies of any passwords they have on their devices.  In worst case scenario, the authorities will want access to see who they’ve been talking with if they turn up missing.  In best case, you may want to go through Contacts and Friends lists.
  5. Let kids know upfront that the device is really yours, and that you can have access to it at any time.  Nothing on the Internet is private, so nothing on their device should be private from you.
  6. If your child wants to join Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc, you may want to consider joining yourself and following them so that you can checkup on their updates and make sure that other kids are not harassing your kids (I recommend to NOT confront the other child directly if this happens!  Talk to their parents instead.).
CELL PHONES & TABLETS:  While many of our  students probably do not have phones yet, most likely they all will as they enter Junior High or High School.  Areas to consider are 1) access to purchase apps or music online 2) access to age-appropriate websites/material online, and 3) keeping your child’s identity safe.  On Apple products, you block access to the app store and other social media sites and decide which apps can use location services (using the GPS in the phone/table to access your location in order to provide a more accurate experience).  You can also set content rating limits for music and apps.  Go to Settings > Restrictions.  Android phones require outside software to be purchased. The Nexus 7 & 10, KindleFire, and Book HD which run on Android’s Jellybean 4 operating system all have their own software built in, and can be accessed from the device directly.
GAMING SYSTEMS:  On my son’s XBox, I have my own account, and I was able to set parental controls through here, including not being able to download any new games without my consent.  This becomes especially important when you open up the console to the Internet.  He complains about how ‘all the other kids’ are allowed to play ‘M’ games while he is not.  We have regular discussions about why our family has those restrictions, and that other families are allowed to have their own rules.  Neither is necessarily better – just different.  The other aspect which concerns me is the multi-player component where they play with other kids online.  We’ve had heated arguments between boys in the classroom at the Junior High over online gaming ‘conversations’ the night before.  Our son is very good about asking us whether or not he can send or accept friend requests through XBox Live, and he tells us who he plays with.  The Wii and PlayStation 3 also have Parental Controls (see the article below for more information on how to access them).

Center for Missing and Exploited Children

Carnegie Mellon University

Great list of articles and blog posts, such as “Is Instagram Safe for Kids?”
How to set up Parental Controls on all the major gaming systems
Photo Credit:
Resource for this article from USA Today

Why Kids Need Tech Class in School

Crosspost of my January column for my school’s PTO Newsletter:

Over break, I cleaned out our burgeoning bookshelves, and decided to get rid of our single-volume encyclopedia and our unabridged dictionary.  I can’t remember the last time I used them, even with two students in the house.  New technology is everywhere.  Careers and life and more and more tech-based (even 5 years ago, I never thought ‘technology integration’ would be part of my resume!).  Past columns have discussed 21st century learners, and how preparing our kids for jobs which are cutting edge, or even for those that we can predict is doing them a disservice.  We need to be using new teaching standards, such as the Common Core, to teach them how to work well with others, be curious and how to find, manage, and manipulate information – all with this omnipresent technology.

dictionary picMany of the “Top 10 Issues” lists for education in 2013 mention technology.  The trick -the real issue – is actually twofold: teaching teachers how to integrate technology, so that it becomes part of the curriculum, not the curriculum itself, and second, how to teach kids to use technology responsibly.  Just because they are ‘digital natives’ and have grown up surrounded by technology does not mean they know how to efficiently find information, evaluate its relevance, and then how to use it constructively to create something new.  This is one of the school’s new responsibilities.

Hopefully, all of you have been receiving my weekly emails letting you know about what’s going on in computer class.   It has been my goal this year to start integrating my class’s curriculum into that of their regular classroom teacher.  Basically, my goal is to use technology to reinforce topics covered in their other subjects.  We often work on word processing skills by writing with their spelling words or reinforce math by playing money counting or time telling games.  Perhaps you read or heard about plotting the Iditarod’s trail on Google Earth before reading their story in 5th grade?  The kids probably don’t know it, but by teaching them technology skills when they NEED to know them makes them much more memorable than teaching them out of context or ‘just because that’s what was on the syllabus to teach you today.’

But I can’t get it all done in a year.  It is vital that this technology education continues throughout their schooling, partly because I can’t cover everything in 40 minutes per week, and partly because the relevant skills I’m teaching today will probably be obsolete in a couple of years.  It is my wish for all our kids that they receive every opportunity to become successful individuals – in grade school, high school, college, and into their careers.

Maybe next year when I go to clean the bookshelves, I’ll get rid of all of them, because who really uses physical books anymore?