Writer: Dr. Mariah Smith Morgan, MSU Extension Service
School-age children are filling up backpacks with pencils and crayons as they prepare for the first day of school, which will be followed closely by homework assignments to complete on home computers. Increased computer usage brings the need for parental supervision and vigilance.
Computers are not inherently bad. But, just as you tell your children not to talk to strangers, there are several things you need to teach them about technology. First, keep computers in a common area of the house where others can walk by and see what is on the monitor. Internet filters can help keep some things off your computer, like pornography, but it is still best to be vigilant.
Filters also can restrict times for computer use and disable the student’s ability to surf the web when parents are not home. This feature gives the student an easy way out if friends are pressuring him or her to take part in cyberbullying.
With more students – some as young as elementary school age -- having access to social media sites like Facebook and Instagram, parents need to pay close attention to what is being posted. Be sure you have access to their accounts, including their usernames and passwords. Periodically check what they post and what others are posting about them.
If your child absolutely refuses to let you friend them on social sites like Facebook, get creative. Most of the time they will let a grandparent or favorite aunt or uncle be their friend. Make sure you are friends with those people and routinely check what is being posted. Cyberbullying is the most prevalent threat teens face, so parents need to be proactive.
Many sites also allow instant messaging between people. Educate yourself on the use of instant messaging slang, which is the same slang used for texting and sexting. For example, they are communicating that a parent is watching if they type the numeral 9. The list is long and changes frequently. You can research some of the slang abbreviations at http://www.netlingo.com/acronyms.php.
If you aren’t sure about what something means or there is a post that you find inappropriate, take a screen capture of it for future reference. To take a screen capture, simply press the “Control” key on your keyboard and the “Print Screen” key simultaneously. Next, open a program like Microsoft Word. Press the “Control” key and the letter “V” on your keyboard to paste the screen capture into the document. This way you have a record to go back to if needed.
Most students from middle school up have a smartphone of some description. Don’t forget that most smartphones and tablets have Internet access. Students can access everything they would on your home computer on their phone or tablet. To increase safety, your options are to disable the Internet connection or consider buying a filter for the device.
The most important thing you can do is to talk with your children about the technology. Students need to be aware that smartphone users can take photos of them in the locker room without their knowledge or consent.
Giving children guidelines for technology and a safe place to discuss what they are doing with their gadgets is the best way to keep your kids safe online this school year.