I wrote this blog as a guest blogger for the ICAC Task Force website – originally posted 4-17-13.
So much as changed since 2001, the year I first became involved with the ICAC program, and a time when Facebook didn’t even exist. I used to give Internet safety presentations, but now give technology safety presentations. I used to suggest parents put the computer in a common room, but now computers are hand-held devices we carry in our pockets. How things have changed, but at the same time, are really the same.
Many may find all this technology to be intimidating, and feel our kids and teens are far more adept at its use. But let’s just break it down to what we know by taking technology out of the discussion for a moment. When your child goes out on a Saturday night, you ask three simple but important questions. 1) Where are you going? 2) Who are you going with? 3) What time will you be home?
As involved parents, we want to know what our kids are doing and whom they’re hanging out with. If your son or daughter’s friend visits your home, you greet him or her when they arrive, periodically check on them, and say goodbye when they leave. You probably don’t hang out with them, but step into, then out of their world during that visit. That is the essence of involved parenting, stepping in – stepping out.
Now back to technology. We want to know what our kids are doing with their devices; whom they’re friending, texting or chatting with, and what kind of sites they visit. It’s that “where are you going” line of questions and there is a fine line between checking on your son or daughter, and spying on them, but find ways to be be involved. For example, when you child is texting a friend, ask who they’re texting. When they say it’s just (insert friend’s name here), then say you want to say hi! I know you’ll probably hear – NO WAY, but if that same friend called your house, you’d talk to them. We’re letting changing technology create barriers that aren’t really there.
You can’t be with your child day and night, so you have to give them the tools to make the right decisions with technology when you aren’t there. Let them know you care, but set rules and talk with them about your expectations. Talk with them often. They need to hear how your message fits the variety of devices they use and the many pressures they experience. Don’t forget your mission. They may know how to use technology better than adults, but we as parents know how to guide our kids to become independent and responsible citizens.
This is my guest blog for iKeepSafe.org, posted on 03-14-13: http://www.ikeepsafe.org/socialnetworking/if-it-is-on-the-internet-–-it’s-not-private/
Think of social media as a chain link fence. Even though we are all linked together, there are lots of holes. The fence seems pretty strong, but will lose its strength if any of the links are broken. We count on that weakest link to hold things together, but sometimes it causes the fence to fail.
Recently I watched a news story about a Chief of Police getting suspended for posting an inappropriate photo on Facebook. It was sad to see someone in such a highly respected position lose so much from a silly mistake. His mistake of posting the photo was compounded by his belief that it was private.
He reportedly has said his Facebook was “hacked.” Although that’s possible, it’s more likely that his Facebook wasn’t hacked, but rather contained a weak link. I don’t know if the person who copied the photo did so with malice, or just thought the image was funny, but in the end, it didn’t matter. Please don’t assume that anything you post on your Facebook or any other social media site is ever private.
The very nature of social media is sharing. The very nature of the internet is that anything and everything can be copied. Once this inappropriate photo was shared, he lost control of who could see it or copy it. On Facebook we place trust in others to make good decisions about our content. However, as in this situation, if the poster can’t determine what is or isn’t appropriate, they certainly can’t trust others to know.
Many people will “like,” “comment,” or “share” a friend’s Facebook photo. When that happens, it will be distributed to many others outside the original circle of friends. Some people don’t allow sharing of their photos. This does limit who can see the image, but never stops someone from making a screen capture of it. There are many free screen capture programs for a PC, and on a Mac it’s built into the operating system, so these are readily available to everyone.
Even if you know all your friends on Facebook, anyone can still copy your words or pictures without your knowledge or permission. Never post anything you don’t want copied and shared with others, because if it is on the internet it’s not private. You just never know which link of your fence may fail you.
This is my guest blog posted on the iKeepSafe website on 2-19-2013: http://www.ikeepsafe.org/balancing-screen-time/too-much-screen-time/
One of the most talked about new gadgets to emerge from the Consumer Electronic Show this year is the iPotty, a child potty training toilet with a mounting for an iPad.
When I saw this new take on toilet training, my immediate reaction was, “Not with my iPad you don’t!”
Let’s look at this issue from a larger perspective: screen time. Are we doing something to our children instead of for our children? When we give small kids, particularly those under 2, our devices, technology, and even television screen time, it is often a way to entertain or pacify them.
I’ve seen parents in a restaurant with a fussy child—often one that is being ignored—give their child a smart phone to play with so that the parent can return to their adult conversation. Yes, it’s so cute that a small child can do things on a smart phone, but it doesn’t replace what they are really craving, which is human interaction.
I remember how much I enjoyed reading books to my kids when they were little. Often they wanted me to read the same book over and over, and memorized all the words to books like Goodnight Moon. They loved turning the pages, pointing to the words and pictures, sitting on my lap and loudly saying “The end” as we closed the book together.
There were a lot of things happening during those reading sessions. We were bonding, building language and fine motor skills, and many other things important to child-development. Of course I shouldn’t fail to mention it was special time for Dad!
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under 2 have no screen time and children between the age of 2 and 5 have less than 1-2 hours of screen time a day. Think about family time in front of the television, and then add to that the time a child has with a smart phone or iPad. It’s easy to go quickly past the 2 hour maximum.
A recent study by Common Sense Media on technology for ages 0 to 8 included an alarming statistic involving children and television. 30% of children ages 0 to 1 and 44% of children age 2 to 4 have a television in their bedroom. Why?
A young person’s brain is greatly influenced by their experiences. We must be careful to monitor the over-use of technology by our young children. The more they use technology the greater the chance for its use to become addictive and even worse, replace the important developmental activities, like quality time with Mom and Dad.
My guest blog for iKeepSafe, posted on 1-14-13: See http://www.ikeepsafe.org/parenting/what-can-you-do-to-protect-children/
One of the highlights of last year was the privilege of serving with the 2012 Missouri Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Children. On January 3, 2013 our report was sent to Governor Nixon, the General Assembly and State Board of Education, and released for all citizens. The report is about protecting children from harm and I’m sure you know we can’t dismiss the technology connection to this issue.
The report begins, “Child sexual abuse is a silent epidemic in Missouri and throughout the nation.” This subject affects us all, and we have a responsibility to protect our children. So how do you help? What can you do?
Recommendation #1 states, “Community-based child sexual abuse prevention education needs to be expanded and be comprehensive in nature.” This includes prevention education for children, parents, staff and volunteers of youth-serving organizations, schools and the community as a whole. You can find a great resource for prevention information at “StopItNow.”
You can recommend prevention training to your child’s day-care or school as well as the organization running their sports teams or other activities. Any place that you allow someone else to supervise your child, prevention training should be included.
Recommend to these organizations and agencies that they develop a policy to protect children in their care, and that all staff and participants know the policy. Also, recommend they have a plan and know what to do if there is a report of child abuse.
Know where to turn to make a report of child sexual abuse or exploitation. Each state has a child abuse hotline—know your state’s number! Every citizen has a responsibility to make a report if they suspect a child is being abused, don’t rely on others.
We need a holistic approach to keeping children safe from those who would inflict harm. This isn’t just the responsibility of those in the child protection field; it is the responsibility of all citizens. Take time to review this report and find something you can do to prevent the abuse of our children. As my friend and former Director of Training for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children says “You now have been given the burden of knowledge.” I say, pass it on!!
This is my guest blog posted on the iKeepSafe.org website on 1-02-2013: http://www.ikeepsafe.org/parenting/time-for-your-kids/
During every holiday season we seem to hug our kids and tell them how much we love them just a bit more often. And with the tragic events in Newtown, that bit more has increased to a lot more. Connecting with our kids is the most powerful thing a parent can do.
Kids and teens will have a lot of time on their hands during their winter break from school and those new games and devices they found under the tree will be begging for all their time. How they use that time is important. Here’s a quote from the Pew Internet & American Life Project 2012 Report on the Future of the Internet that highlights that issue. “My friends are less interested in genuine human interaction than they are at looking at things on Facebook.”
I love cookies (actually my mother says it was my first word) and yet I can’t eat cookies all the time. The sugar high, the expanding waistline and a variety of other health issues keeps me from that binge.
I love technology too (my wife probably has something witty to say about this) yet I can’t, nor should I spend my life on my devices. You know the tired eyes, the expanding waistline (yep, just like the cookies) plus a variety of issues involving a lack of personal interaction.
With wrapping paper scattered near and far, and opened presents being put to the test, it may seem hard to connect with your kids. After all, they have music to listen to, video games to play and so many friends’ contact information to enter into their new phones.
If you’re home with your kids, find ways to spend time with them – talking, laughing and sharing experiences. If you choose to play a video game, make sure it’s about communicating and sharing, and not just about competing.
If you can’t be home with the kids during their entire break, think about setting some parameters for how much time they will spend on those new toys. Passive use of technology is a poor replacement for active communication, interactive play and engagement with other children or adults.
Treasure the time and closeness with loved ones that the Holidays bring! Best wishes for a Special Holiday and Happy 2013!!
This is my guest blog for iKeepSafe posted on 12-12-12: http://www.ikeepsafe.org/parenting/risk-taking-teens-and-apps-a-bad-combination/
Do you remember as a teenager how you tested limits? Maybe it was driving too fast, skipping school, or…. now I’m showing my age… streaking?
I remember when the whole school lined up to watch a couple of classmates run from one end of the campus to the other. Everyone knew it was going to happen, and of course the principals did too. So why would someone decide to run naked across campus—oh yeah, with ski masks to hide their identity, which of course everyone knew? The simple answer is that they wanted to show off and get attention.
We all have basic needs like wanting to belong, be recognized and feel loved. And these needs are powerful.
When kids and teens are confronted with a risky situation, they will weigh the risks and rewards, and sometimes the reward is more important than doing the right thing.
You can meet some of these needs for your children by being loving and involved parents, but they are definitely seeking to also meet these needs from their friends and peers. How they meet these basics needs can involve a variety of methods, but technology allows risk-taking at a very different level than when I was a teen.
There are so many apps (smart phone software) that are great tools for sharing and communicating, but they also afford risk-takers to use them quite differently than intended.
Some apps, such as “Wickr” allow users to send text messages that delete after a short period of time, keeping parents from seeing the text. Some apps, such as “SnapChat” allow senders to set the amount of time the recipient can view a photo before it is automatically deleted.
I’m afraid kids are going to see these apps as a way to do something risky because they believe whatever they do will be erased. Because that attention-getting photo will be immediately deleted after being seen, teens may think it is safe. That false sense of security is dangerous; there are still ways to save that image or even take a picture of it with a different phone.
The use of apps on smart phones is a topic parents need to discuss with their children. Take time to discuss rules and expectations about installing and using apps on their phones. There are thousands of apps that can be used for great things, but some may have a variety of uses that a risk-taking teen will find intriguing.
Oh, now back to the ending to the streaking story. The administrators were a bit over-matched by the young men’s quickness and they made it safely across the campus that day. They had their 15 minutes of fame but eventually had to deal with the consequences of that run.
In today’s world there would be hundreds of pictures and videos of the whole event posted on Facebook and YouTube. In my high school days no one carried a camera in their pocket, so that day is just held in our fading memories.
This is my guest blog for iKeepSafe posted on 11-29-12: http://www.ikeepsafe.org/parenting/the-christmas-list/
Was that you braving the shopping crowds Thanksgiving night or early black Friday morning? Did you find all the gadgets on your list? If you’re like most of us, you still have some shopping to do.
I’m sure your kids are giving you all sorts of suggestions for Santa. As you compile that list of things for him to bring down your chimney, what kind of technology devices are you including? Here are some things to consider before you finalize that list for Ol’ Saint Nick.
Will there be a gaming console like X-Box or PlayStation under the tree? Is there a smart phone in your son or daughter’s stocking? Are you struggling to decide which tablet or e-reader is the best choice?
Toys often come marked with an age range to help parents decide if it’s appropriate for their child. Game consoles, smart phones and other technology don’t come with that type of guide. You’re on your own to consider a variety of factors before deciding to give your kid something that may or may not be the best choice for their maturity level. There are a number of sites that provide reviews and suggestions about devices, and Common Sense Media offers some great tips to help you decide.
Does your electronic gift come with parental controls, and do you plan to take the time to learn how to use them? Some technologies like smart phones are hand-held computers with full access to the internet including Facebook and Twitter. Gaming consoles are also much like a computer, with internet access and connections to people and material that you may not consider appropriate for your child.
Give some thought to how you will manage your child’s use of that new device. Will you set limits for where, when and for how long it can be used? Regardless of your choice of limits, have a conversation with your son or daughter about your expectations for the use of the new technology. Be sure they understand how their use of this new device fits your family values.
While you’re checking your list, spend some time thinking about the person hoping to get this gift. Consider all of the reasons why it is a great choice for your child, or whether they’re actually ready for it this year.
Here’s wishing Santa has room in his sleigh for all that is best for your kids.
This is my guest blog posted on the iKeepSafe website on 11-13-12. See: http://www.ikeepsafe.org/cellphone/what-would-you-do/
I have a question for parents: What would you do if someone asked you to send him or her a sexually explicit image? I’m assuming your response would be, “I’d never do that.”
Let me also ask, how do you know that would be your answer? My guess is that you’d respond, “I just know that I’d never send someone an image like that.”
The reason you “just know” is based on something very simple. You know who you are. You know your personal values and you know what direction your moral compass points. That’s the advantage of years worth of getting to know your own values and beliefs.
When someone asks you to do something, evenpressures you to do something, you have a strong moral base to turn to. This base guides you to do what you know is right. You’ve practiced and practiced your stance. You’ve already gone through those teenage years filled with peer pressure and learned through trial and error.
Now that you’re the parent of a child in the age of technology, it is critically important to pass along your years of experience. Setting a moral base is a process, but as parents we must do what we can to expedite this development.
Because the “send” button is just a simple click away, our children must establish their personal stance long before they are asked to send that explicit image. Let me say that again. The time to decide whether or not to send that pic is long before the question is asked.
Sexting, the sending of a sexually explicit image or video through a mobile device, is an issue that often happens because of peer pressure. It also occurs because of the instant capabilities of technology. If our kids had time to think about the decision removed from peer pressure, most wouldn’t go through with it.
This is where parents can influence their children’s behavior. Talk to your kids about this issue. Ask your son or daughter how they would handle that same question I asked you; what would you do if someone asked you to send a sexually explicit picture?
We can’t expect kids to “just know,” because they haven’t had the practice we have. Take time to help them practice.
This is my guest blog posted on the iKeepSafe website on 10-26-12: See: http://www.ikeepsafe.org/cybersafety/protect-your-personal-information-when-gaming/
A friend of mine was bragging the other day about his teenage son’s gaming abilities. He told me that his kid plays some war game against his friends, but they were no longer any competition for him. Now his son plays a lot of his games against people he’s met through X-Box Live and is constantly talking with them through his headset.
As he was telling this story, my friend suddenly stopped, and asked, “Is it possible that some of these people are predators?” Of course it’s possible. Here are some things I told him about online offenders and how they connect with kids.
Offenders look for kids where they hang out. Since gaming consoles (like X-Box) are about as common for kids as Facebook, offenders spend a lot of time there. Because they play a lot of games, they also become very good players.
None of this may seem like a big deal if your son doesn’t do anything other than play a game. The problem is that it’s easy for someone to establish a “friendship” based solely on a game. When you have a common bond (gaming), the usual barriers for a predator are easily avoided. The longer a kid plays, and the more he talks with others, the greater the chance for him to share personal things about himself.
These gaming conversations, which may seem like no big deal to a teen, could be just the connection the offender is looking for. While playing the game, the first question could be “where are you?” Because you don’t know this guy and you’re careful about personal details, the answer is usually very general—I live in whatever city. But as they play over a long period of time, it becomes much easier to add things like the school you attend. As that information begins to flow, real names get added. For teens, time seems to equal friendship, so what’s the big deal in telling your new “buddy” your real name.
I told my friend he shouldn’t stop his son from playing online games, but should definitely have a conversation about sharing personal information with strangers. I said, even if he’s playing a game with people he does know, if strangers are also playing, he and his friends should avoid talking about personal things that identify them.
Offenders pay attention. They gather personal information over time and use that info to connect the dots to identify someone. We know to keep personal information from strangers in the real world; we should avoid giving that same personal info to strangers in the gaming world.
This is my guest blog posted on the iKeepSafe.org blog site on September 28, 2012: http://www.ikeepsafe.org/parenting/when-all-else-fails/
If you’ve read any of my blogs, you know I’m an advocate of parental involvement and discourage efforts toward being a spy parent. I’ve often written about kids needing our help and guidance, and that the majority of kids really want to do the right thing. The truth is, however, some teens are risk takers and for a variety of reasons will engage in inappropriate or even dangerous online behaviors. Here are some suggestions for the parent of a risk-taking child.
Don’t underestimate your child’s computer abilities. Filtering and Monitoring software can be just a speed bump to a tech savvy teen. Software products allow you to see what your teen has been doing online, including what they post and view on sites like Facebook and even the text messages they send and receive from their phone. I don’t recommend this type of software as a first line of defense, but for some risk-taking teens, it becomes a must. I just don’t want parents to trust that software will fix this problem.
Be the boss.
Set rules and enforce them consistently. I find parenting is a step process. This is where you step up and increase your parenting controls to meet the needs of your child. It is about management and knowing when, where, and how your teens use technology. Talk with your teen about your expectations as well as your beliefs on personal privacy. Teens like to create private places, but a risk-taking teen behind closed doors offers too many opportunities for acting on those dangerous behaviors. Keeping their bedroom door open may be enough, but it may require a stronger step toward no devices in the bedroom or when in private.
Control the device.
Some parents suggest the easy answer is to take away the phone and computer. Before taking such a step, think about whether or not you really want to disconnect your son or daughter from their friends. What will they do if their school uses technology in the classroom, or even has a One-to-One program? Taking away their devices is a harsh consequence, so make sure it is a necessary step.
Learn and utilize the parental controls offered by your mobile phone provider. These parental controls can block smart phone use during specified times, such as the middle of the night. Instead of paying the phone company, you could also have a rule about charging the phone in the kitchen or in your bedroom as another step.
Get an assessment of your current situation.
Although this is a new field, there may be resources you can turn to for help. We are well past the days of only one computer in the house, and now have wireless access and mobile devices throughout our homes. Think about controlling access to the internet by turning off the wireless router. You might even have to take the giant step of taking the router to your bedroom at night to avoid the really clever kid who would covertly turn it on while you sleep. Get a home assessment of your family technology situation to determine the steps necessary to protect your risk-taking teen.
All kids are different. Take charge of your teens exposure to risks and dangers. Know what steps you’ll need to take to regulate their online behaviors and exert your “parental controls.”