Monday, October 6, 2014

Parenting with Purpose in the Digital Age... It's Complicated

Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Tumblr, Snap Chat and more. Keeping up with our children’s technology use is tough and ever changing, but critical to their safety and future. Unfortunately, it seems like there are always headlines about kids getting into trouble and even danger due to technology use.  An incident in the Minneapolis area in the past week involved two 13 year old girls being kidnapped by a man they were in contact with through their cellphones using the Omegle app, which lets any user connect to random strangers instantly. The disclaimer in the fine print at the bottom of their homepage pictured below reads in part:


"Do not use Omegle if you are under 13. If you are under 18, use it only with a parent/guardian's permission. 

Do not transmit nudity, sexually harass anyone, publicize other peoples' private information, make statements that defame or libel anyone, violate intellectual property rights, use automated programs to start chats, or behave in any other inappropriate or illegal way on Omegle. 

Understand that human behavior is fundamentally uncontrollable, that the people you encounter on Omegle may not behave appropriately, and that they are solely responsible for their own behavior. 

Use Omegle at your own peril. 

Disconnect if anyone makes you feel uncomfortable."

Just reading their disclaimer would make most any parent cringe.  There are so many similar sites, they can't possibly all be monitored, blocked, or even kept track of...  so what's a parent to do?

Teaching kids to use technology responsibly is the responsibility of both families and schools.  In an effort to help parents, we've been offering parent education talks on the topic for about the past seven years, such as one tonight, Parenting Tech Savvy Kids 101, Monday, October 6, 2014, 6:30–8pm, in our high school auditorium. We offer free transportation for parents in the school district that may not have a vehicle.  In January, we are offering this session again with an elementary focus.  (A recording of a lunchtime webinar from last year can be found here.)

At these sessions, we provide parents with tips for maintaining open dialog about technology and help them understand the significant role they play in helping their children be responsible and safe in today's high-tech world. We explain why kids should be cautious about what information they share online and be made aware of the permanency of their digital record.  We share numerous ideas and free resources like Common Sense Media as well as tips for setting up a filter on a home wireless network.  A link to my handout with all of these tips and resources can be found at My top tips are:

Top Tips for Parents and Teachers:
  1. Celebrate and Encourage Positive Uses of Technology
  2. Proactively share values, consequences, expectations away from home
  3. Model a Healthy Balance and Limit Entertainment Screen Time vs. Educational Screen Time 
  4. Actively engage and monitor, keep informed of trends, pop culture
  5. Set up a filter and restrictions for all screens
  6. Talk about pornography & sexting
  7. Emphasize that nothing is private
  8. Explain that everything is permanent
  9. Talk about respectful etiquette and cyberbullying
  10. Avoid Violent Video Games
  11. Teach the Dangers of Distracted Driving

At school with students, we begin this process early in elementary school, with media specialists using the Common Sense Media curriculum with our students whom they see for direct instruction each week.  At our secondary level, we are embedding the Common Sense Media curriculum into our announcements and also some of our advisory/homerooms.  If you haven't ever looked at Common Sense Media, it's great.  I'm always recommending this site to parents as a great place for up to date news on the latest trends, reviews of movies, apps, video games, etc., and advice on parenting in the Digital Age.  We keep updating information to share with our students' families about cyber safety and digital citizenship on our website, including tips such as instructions about installing home internet filters and links to other resources. We started a District Task Force on Digital Citizenship this past summer. We've also refreshed a poster campaign, with some examples pictured below:


Our hope is that by repeatedly reminding and educating both students and parents through multiple mediums and means, our students will be safe and responsible digital citizens. 

(Here's an interesting followup to the news story mentioned above: When 13-year-olds went missing, Minnesota detectives cracked case with digital forensics plus some tips for parents.)

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