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Talk Early, Often to Kids about Tech Safety, Expert Says

Children must be educated about the potential dangers in misusing computers and phones and parents must lay down strict rules, Internet expert says.

Preschool-aged children are not too young when it comes to discussing how to properly and safely use technology, an Internet safety expert said Thursday.

Just as a parent starts laying the groundwork for healthy behavior when children are very young, it's equally important to start talking to kids early about how computers, cell phones, video gaming systems and other media should be used, said Marsali Hancock, president and CEO of the Internet Keep Safe Coalition.

Technology talks can begin with children as young as 4 years old, she said.

“If you hand a child a cell phone, talk about technology,” Hancock, a mother of six children, said.

The iKeepSafe organization, which partnered with Google, presented a program Thursday on Internet safety as .

Since parents today grew up without computers, e-mail and social media, they have a lot to learn, Hancock said. Their children are on the cutting edge of technology, learning each new gadget or tool quickly, so they view technology differently than their parents, she said.

“I see technology as a tool that is efficient and effective,” she said. “Kids connect emotionally with their digital devices. What they do online affects how they feel about themselves.”

Because children and teenagers feel so close to cell phones, it can often be referred to as their “digital pacifier,” she said.

“If children are connecting emotionally through their digital devices, we as parents have to be there for them,” Hancock said. “We have the capacity of guiding them.”

Eleven- and 12-year-olds frequently have cell phones, and some children as young as 7 are starting to have them, too, she said. More than 90 percent of high school students have a Facebook page, and many children under the age of 13 use false ages to create one, she said.

Hancock said it is often middle-school children who do what they see as silly pranks but end up doing something that could have a damaging or lifelong effect.

One example is sexting, in which a lewd photo or message may be sent to one person and ends up being quickly distributed to an entire school or community, she said. Another is assuming another person’s identity or hacking into someone else’s email accounts, both of which can lead to civil or criminal cases. Cyberbullying can have drastic negative effects in the sensitive middle-school years.

If parents talk to their child early, they're are more likely to make an impression on the child about the need to respect technology and appreciate the consequences of online actions, Hancock said.

She advises three steps to help parents guide their children to safe media use. They should:

  • Keep current on the latest technology. High school students know and talk with their friends about what is the latest and greatest social media sites, Web sites or smart phone apps, and parents need to know, too. “Kids are faster adopters” of online tools, Hancock said. “There’s always something new.”
  • Set rules for when computers, video games and cell phones can be used. Open the lines of communication well before middle school, Hancock said.
  • Check on their children’s computer use, and tell them that nothing on the Internet is private.

“We can’t give children a false sense of privacy,” Hancock said. “There is no way to have a private conversation on the Web. If it is done with a digital device, it can be public. Kids make better choices when they know it is public.”

Hancock said many college recruiters will follow a student’s Facebook page when determining if a student gets accepted into the university. Employers also look at potential employees’ online profiles when considering them for a job.

“A few pictures can wipe out career options,” Hancock said.

If parents follow their child’s online persona, they can quickly learn of dangerous behaviors, including suicidal behavior, gang recruitment and eating disorders, and intervene sooner.

Ken Shallcross October 03, 2011 at 04:22 PM
Correct me if I am wrong, but the right to freedom of speech we have been given by the Constitution was intended by our forefathers to guarantee the right to assemble and petition the government without fear of being silenced or punished. This "freedom of speech" was never intended to include the act of insulting, threatening and harassing others – whether online or in any public forum. Unfortunately, right now, many are cowering behind that right to destroy the lives of others. The Cyberbullying loophole needs to be closed. Cyberbullying is slander/ libel and should be considered as such in a court of law. The problem is that the Internet is a safe haven for bullies because of the anonymity. There is not a more cowardly way to bully someone then from behind a curtain. Parents are the key to solving this. They need to get involved and be part of the solution – not part of the problem. If parents feared their child being the bully or passing along the material as much as they care when their child is a victim, it would be a huge step forward. But how do you know if your child is involved in cyberbullying? You need to monitor their Internet activity. Monitoring software like our PC Pandora records everything that happens on the PC. If your child is a victim, you will know; if they are a bully, you will know. Check us out at http://pcpandora.com to see how you can be an active part of the solution instead of a passive part of the problem.
Gab Wells October 25, 2011 at 05:32 PM
The only negative thing about many of these services, especially those that are related to cell phones, is how restrictive the technology is and seems that it will remain. From what I've read up, there are only a few apps out now that can help you monitor your children's activities with a cell phone and I have yet to hear about them moving away from IPhone or Android. Are there any other services out there? I'm considering a prepaid carrier, Tracfone, for my son since it seemed the most basic of services in terms of the technology I've seen...could one of these apps maybe work with them? Any recommendations?
JuliannaSmith March 07, 2012 at 02:50 PM
Great article to read about. Indeed, teaching kids at their early age would be a huge help in molding their maturity in handling things. Since technologies are everywhere, the best thing to do is to use it in a better way. And in line with this I wanted to suggest this blog that I just found by anationofmoms about a service that can protect your family via your cell phone. And at the bottom, there is an opportunity to enter a drawing for 6 months of that service just by liking them on Facebook. You might find it interesting: http://anationofmoms.com/2011/08/protect-your-family-giveaway.html

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