Keep students safe with technology

By Dr. Mariah Smith
Extension Center for Technology Outreach

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 student¹s
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 aren¹t 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 ³Control² key on your keyboard and
the ³Print Screen² key simultaneously. Next, open a program like Microsoft
Word. Press the ³Control² key and the letter ³V² 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.
Don¹t 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.