13 June 2011

Parenting in a Digital Age

By Ben Smith and Jared Mader

Not too many weeks ago, following a weekend hiking and camping trip, my daughter was excitably searching the web for a Camelbak hydration pack -- just like the one that her friend had been drinking from over the last few days. At age seven, she is quite savvy with her devices, so, of course, I told her to Google “Dick’s” (Sporting Goods) as a good starting point...at that very moment, I realized that her literal interpretation of my instructions were filtered neither by experience or by digital awareness. Her innocence was not to blame, but rather the uncensored content that is just one click away. So, what could I have done differently -- that brings us to the scope of this post.

First, we as parents need to make sure that we’re having the conversations about the dangers of online activities at home. This cannot just be a message that is heard in school, but it must be a cultural understanding. Don’t know where to start, that’s okay, http://www.commonsensemedia.org/ has done a great job of posting the top ten things parents need to know when talking with their kids about Internet usage and safety. We cannot talk about cybersafety without addressing Facebook. Children can officially sign up for an account beginning at 13. Once the account is created students post information to their wall with any web enabled device. Parents can find guidance for their children at http://www.facebookforparents.org/.

Second, it’s time to arm yourself with all of the information that you need to know, from cell phone safety to web filtering and everything in between. CyberSmartParent is a Google Site committed to providing current information about how to keep your family safe in an increasingly more connected world. Simple things, although challenging to enforce, like requiring your kids to share all of their online passwords with you, checking their cell phone usage, and using web filters to monitor or regulate the times of day that they are online are all ways that you can show your kids that your are active and interested in their web presence. In our house, all of the computing devices remain in the common area. No web surfing gets done behind closed doors. We also talk about who you can tell your password to and how to handle emails soliciting information.

Third, it’s never too late, but preferably before your children ever begin to engage socially in the web, you need to become more aware of the dangers of cyberbullying, online predators, and the acronyms and language that they use to mask their real message. The Better Business Bureau has done a nice job of describing Cyberbullying, as well as has provided some of the most commonly used acronyms when translating these digital conversations.

Finally, and most importantly, you need to be vigilant. Our digital footprints are extending far beyond the walls of our homes -- protect them. Have regular conversations with your kids about the lasting effects of what they post and how they act, when working online. If they are using Facebook, create your own account and become friends with them so you can see their posts. Adding a filter to your computers is not enough, as we know that the filter will one day not be there, and the choices that your kids make will be the result of your vigilance along the way.

The web is an exciting place, filled with opportunity and new ideas. We just want to be sure that we are protecting our families from those elements that exist to do them harm. Hopefully, some of these tools will guide you and your children in this new journey that you will be embarking on with them.

Ben Smith is a physics teacher and science chairman at Red Lion Area High School, where he has worked for the past 22 years. He is also a partner in an educational technology consulting practice called EdTechInnovators (http://www.edtechinnovators.com/). His work with schools has taken him across the U.S. and overseas to work with the Singapore Ministry of Education. Ben serves on the Board of Directors for the International Society for Technology in Education, a nonprofit international organization. Ben lives with his wife Lottie in York Township with their two children – Caitlin, 14, and Ian, 10.

Jared Mader is the Director of Technology for the Red Lion Area School District. He has served in this position for four years, after teaching Chemistry for nine years. In that time, he has led technology integration professional development initiatives. He is a member of the Discovery Educator Network and has been identified as a PDE State Keystone Technology Integrator. He also serves as a partner in an educational technology consultancy, EdTechInnovators, providing professional development to districts across the United States and abroad. Jared lives in York with his wife Janell and 7-year-old daughter Emma. You can contact him at maderj@rlasd.k12.pa.us or jared@edtechinnovators.com.

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