Mister Man is headed to middle school in the fall. That alone is a huge change and enough to terrify many parents Couple that with the fact that he’ll be given an iPad for use at home and school, and I’m mildly panicked. Our school has been rocked by sexting scandals and other inappropriate use of technology in the past, and I do not want my children caught up with that or any other problems online. Even though I’m pretty savvy online myself, things are always changing and it’s hard to keep up and ensure you’re always learning to be safe online with your kids.
Needless to say, I’m arming myself as much as I can for his unfettered access to technology to ensure that he stays safe online. Our elementary school has done a great job with kids learning to be safe online and reinforcing the basics of not giving out identifying information, how to tell if a site is legitimate or not, and so forth, but there is so much more beyond the elementary level lessons to learn – for him and for me.
Since June is National Internet Safety Awareness Month (and he’s officially out of elementary school – even his summer school classes are at the middle school!), I’m already starting to gear us both up for it and working on learning to be safe online when they don’t have me monitoring their use on our in-view-at-all-times home computer. The Boys and Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) and Sprint have partnered to create the Cyber Safe Futures website that provides information for kids and their parents education on online and social media safety issues, as well as providing a ton of resources.
Learning to Be Safe Online with Your Kids
There are five sections to the website that provide great information. Of course, parents always come up with more questions than can be covered on a website, which is why I absolutely adore that you can ask your own questions of BGCA’s Cyber Safety Ambassadors, a panel of Boys & Girls Club teens from around the world. They’re selecting the top questions about cyberbullying, social networking, online privacy, mobile smarts and other cyber-related issues and answering them from their own (world wise!) perspective. It’s easy to submit your own question or get inspired by some of the answers to previously asked questions. I love that some of the questions are ones that I wouldn’t have thought to ask myself, but I definitely the answers to them! Bonus? Everyone who submits a question will be entered to win one of three iPad minis and $500 to your BGCA club of choice.
Cyber Survivor has a great quiz for parents on how cyber smart they are about their children’s online lives. I’m lucky that my kids aren’t yet on any social networks aside from the school’s intranet, but I know that will be changing sooner rather than later, and it’s a great reminder to me to keep an eye out on what they’re doing to help keep them safe. There are also a series of 5 great “Cyber Survivor” videos in a game show type format that demonstrate the difference between parents’ views and the actual statistics. It’s eye opening. Did you know teens send around 1,600 texts per month on average? Wow.
Cyber Bullying provides great tips for parents to address cyber bullying. This includes preventing it, as well as what to do if kids experience or witness it. The discussions cards that you can download and use are brilliant. This is a tough topic to talk about, but it really helps kick off the conversations – because it shouldn’t just happen once but over and over – about cyber bullying. There are also additional resources for parents that are broken down by kids’ ages to ensure your discussions are age appropriate and include all the important topics.
Mobile Smarts has great tips for parents talking about cell phone and mobile technology. They include great reminders like being a good role model with your own behavior. It’s possible that there are times my husband and I are checking our phones when we shouldn’t be. Again, there are great downloadable discussion cards and additional resources for parents.
Social Networks is the section where most of my friends have their heads in the sand. There are too many of them. They don’t understand them. And they change constantly. This section doesn’t go into specific sites but instead includes great information on social networking in general from ensuring your kids list their correct ages in their profiles which ensures the protections some networks set up for minors is in effect to setting profiles as private so only friends can see them. These discussion cards are my favorite, as so many parents really don’t know where to start the conversation about social networks – or where to take it. The resources are great, as well, with Stop The Post! game one that I hope will help my own children think about what they are putting online.
Online Privacy has been most emphasized with my kids because of the lessons from their elementary school. It simply isn’t a conversation you have and then are “done” with, however. Most of what was there are tips that I’m quite familiar with from not sharing passwords to what information is and isn’t ok to share. The tip that I found most useful and interesting was the suggestion to have my kids show me their favorite sites online and spend time learning about it with your child. I should have thought of that, but of course, I didn’t! As with the other sections, the downloadable discussion cards and links to other resources will make this an easier conversation to start and maintain.
Unfortunately, our kids are the technology natives. They’re on more website and social networks than their parents in most cases, which means they’re far more familiar with and fluent in the online world than we are. But until they’re old enough and mature enough to always (we hope!) make good choices online, it’s up to us as parents to ensure we’re as savvy as we can be and help our kids navigate this space safely. BGCA is committed to helping this process and providing resources, especially those from a kids’ more knowledgeable perspective, that can ensure our success and our kids’ safety.