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Tips to Start the New Year Cyber-Safely!

Posted by Tracy Poelzer on January 6, 2012 in Uncategorized |

Happy New Year!

When chatting with students upon to return to school this week, many of them tell me they received Christmas gifts that are technology-related (computers, iPod touches, gaming consoles, cell phones, etc.).  My own two sons are no different.  Many of these wonderful tools have Internet access through WiFi, etc. Our children are considered “digital natives” as they have grown up using this technology on a regular basis and can’t imagine a life without instantaneous access to online information and entertainment. As parents, sometimes we feel that 8 year olds know more than we do about cyber space, and we’re not sure where to start in terms of keeping our children safe online. Here are a few key tips:

  • Make sure computers and internet-accessible devices are always placed or used in high traffic, public areas in your home so you can observe your child’s online behaviour and be close at hand should there be a question or problem.

  • Make it a household policy that your elementary-aged children never sign up for accounts or provide personal information on websites Most sites require that students are a minimum of age 13 to create accounts on their sites – this includes social networking sites such as Facebook (refer to their terms of use). Anyone with these types of accounts has had to check a box to confirm their age or enter birthdate information that expressly states that they are over the age of 13. If you have evaluated a site and have decided it would be safe to allow your child to use, it may be wise to create a family account with a parent’s email address that you will let your child use. That way you always have the ability to login and check on account activity.

  • If your older child is using a social networking site, consider creating your own profile and have them “friend” you. Remind them that everything they post is part of a permanent “digital footprint” that they are leaving on the web, and that it is possible for people to see the information that they are posting – sometimes even those that they do not know. (Check out this great post for activities you can do with students (and yourself) to assess your digital footprint).  It is also imperative that you and your child are mindful of security settings – make sure only your “friends” can view photos, see personal information or read status updates.  Consider creating limited profiles if you don’t want all your “friends” to have access to all images and information you post.  While you’re at it, have a good discussion about what an online “friend” is!

  • Talk to your kids. Ask them about what they can do online, what sites they’re interested in, and who they’re communicating with. Discuss what to do if they access information online that makes them feel upset or uncomfortable.

  • A good, comprehensive list of Internet safety tips for parents can be found here:  http://www.netsmartz.org/safety/safetytips.htm

The Internet is a fantastic resource and is an incredible way of connecting, communicating, and finding excellent information. The good far outweighs the risk of any bad. Addressing Internet safety issues should not be done in a way that makes anyone feel afraid or upset. Nevertheless, just as with anything that may have associated risks… from using playground equipment at school to cooking simple snacks at home… education is key to ensuring our kids feel safe and comfortable using all types of tools – including computers, the Internet, and the wealth of resources available through the use of these tools.

There are many terrific Internet safety resources available freely online. Some are informational and great for teachers and parents; some are games and activities that you can use with children. I have compiled some of the best resources I have found and put them into a wiki site. You can access them at:http://surfsafely.pbworks.com/

Are there any other great Internet safety activities that you can recommend?  What has worked for you as a parent and/or educator?  Please feel free to share by posting a comment!

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