A Tech-Check is Essential for Back-to-School Safety

Have you finished your back-to-school preparations yet?  While you are taking care of new backpacks, clothes, and haircuts, consider doing this: a tech-check to help your family start off the year with good digital habits and boundaries in place.

Some tips for parents: Check out these online resources to help your children develop digital street smarts.

Preschool (5 and under)

It’s never too early to start developing digital safety skills, especially with your preschooler! Preschool children are online for an average of 71 minutes a day. Internet Matters has developed some practical e-safety tips to help your preschooler start off on the right course. 

  1. Use parental controls now – don’t wait!
  2. Set and follow rules for when and how long kids can have screen time.
  3. Explore the digital world together

Elementary Age (6 – 11)

NetSmartz (a project of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children) has just released a new YouTube series called Into the Cloud.  These short animations feature characters Nettie and Webster, who teach about online privacy and safety. Parents should watch these videos with their kids – they make fun and age-appropriate conversation starters.

Tweens (9 – 12)

This Internet Safety Contract from SchoolFamily.com is a good checklist to review the major internet rules that your family will abide by. Even if you don’t use it formally and have your child sign it, this can guide a discussion for appropriate, safe boundaries.  

Tip: Remind kids that apps and many video games connect to other people through the internet, and the same rules apply in all online situations!

Teens

To help your teens plan a thoughtful schedule that includes a variety of non-tech activities (exercise, school, homework, family time, etc.), take a look at the media time calculator from the American Academy of Pediatrics.  This can be a great way to begin talking with your teen about what her new routine will look like this fall, and how she can budget her time wisely to meet her academic and personal goals. 

Related: 5 Easy Tricks to Manage Screen Time and Get a Happier Family, Too

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Tech at School

Find out what technology your child’s school will be using and what their policies are.

Mobile phones

  • Are mobile devices allowed in the classroom?  If so, how will they be used to support learning?  
  • Is texting allowed in the classroom?  If not, will this be enforced and how?  

Internet access

  • Does the school use filtering software? How is your child’s school protecting kids from accessing inappropriate material (intentionally or otherwise)?  
  • Can students bypass school controls and log into their own network?
  • Is the school’s Wi-Fi protected and private? 

Teacher communication

  • Will social media networks be used to connect students with their teachers and/or their classmates for homework or projects? 
  • What are the teacher’s rules and expectations for online communication?
  • Are teachers and students allowed to be “friends” on social media? Talk to your kids about appropriate communication (with peers and adults). 

 Bullying

  • Does your child’s school have a cyberbullying policy?
  • How does the school educate students about cyberbullying and how to report it?
  • What penalties are in place for cyberbullying incidents?

Remember to review the school’s expectations with your child to reinforce good digital citizenship.

Posting First Day of School Photos? Think Safety First!

Those cute off-to-school photos are a long-standing tradition! Make sure they aren’t attracting attention from the wrong crowd with these tips:

  1. Check the privacy settings on your Facebook account – and all other social media accounts- so that only friends and family can see the photos. 
  2. Be aware of the background details of photos that you post online.  For example, if your child is posing in front of his school or your front door, does it show a school name or street number?
  3. Watch that you’re not giving away personal details through your kids’ clothing (school uniforms, names on shirts).
  4. Disable location services from your Facebook account and remove any location tags from photos before you upload them. 
  5. Avoid tagging your child, or other children, in photos that you share.

Keep Teens Away from Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why

In just a few days, Season 3 of this graphic and disturbing teen drama will premiere on August 23rd.  Season 1 exploded onto the small screen in March 2017 as a 13-part teen series. 

The plot centres around a troubled teenage girl who commits suicide and leaves tapes behind to explain why she did it. The revenge tapes directly blame her friends and classmates for her death.

Many experts and professionals sounded the alarm for the show’s graphic depictions of sexual assault, substance abuse and suicide.

“I watched after child after child came in with suicide attempts directly triggered by this show. Study results not surprising.” Dr. Javeed Sukhera, President, Ontario Psychiatric Association

“Making money from teen suicide? The figures are in, Netflix looks potentially culpable and some would argue morally bankrupt.  Will there be legal action?”  Dr. Kwame McKenzie, Psychiatrist and CEO Wellesley Institute, Toronto. 

Suicide rate among teens spiked one month after the season premiere

The controversial series was in the news again when a new study linked the show with a spike in teenage suicides. 

The study discovered that during the month following the show’s release in March 2017, there was nearly a 30 percent increase in suicide rates among U.S. youth ages 10 to 17, particularly among boys. 

Netflix finally responded to the pushback from mental health experts, advocacy groups, parents, and concerned teachers – it was too much for Netflix to ignore. The graphic suicide scene in Season 1, Episode 1 has been edited so that the main character is not shown committing suicide on screen. Season 2 still features a very graphic bathroom rape scene that has not been edited.
 

As if that’s not enough … now Season 3?!

Unfortunately, Season 3 will undoubtedly follow the dark and sordid path of the previous seasons. The plot centers on the death of a main character, so it’s anticipated that the new season will be a “murder mystery.”

Tips for Parents:

Unfortunately, these kinds of shows are not going away anytime soon. So it’s vitally important to both protect your kids and help them develop critical thinking skills to filter out these kinds of programs

  1.   Use a PIN to block specific shows on Netflix.
  2.   Be aware of the popular shows that your kids and their friends may hear about. Talk with them about your concerns. What do they think? Help them make a plan and practice how to decline invitations to watch these shows when they are out with friends.
  3.   Use resources such as Common Sense Media to find the best shows as a family and set those as your go-to shows. Talk about a show “budget.” The conversation could go something like this: “We don’t have enough time to watch every show out there, so let’s pick the best ones and enjoy spending that time on our favorites.”  
  4.   Make your home emotionally safeOne of the many criticisms of 13 Reasons Why is the failure of the show to depict adults supporting a teen in crisis.  There is little to no hope built into the storyline. Instead, it relies heavily on a victim (girl) and victimizer (boy) plot with no coping skills or empathy presented.  This is not a good role model for teens!
  5.   Help your child create an internal filter.  This is so crucial because today it is very difficult to keep our kids from seeing inappropriate or dangerous things. The process of “porn-proofing” our kids can apply to every disturbing trend in our culture. It helps to know how a child’s or adolescent’s brain processes graphic sexualization and/or violence.  Help your children use their “thinking brain” that acts as a filter to screen and reject dangerous images and ideas.

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Stacey Dittman, M.A.
Stacey Dittman lives north of Toronto with her husband and two sons. She holds a bachelor's degree in English Literature and a master's degree in Language and Professional Writing.
Stacey has used her writing and research skills in the government, non-profit and small business sectors. She is thrilled to be working with Protect Young Minds to help empower parents with the latest available information and resources. She enjoys hiking and playing tennis with her family and working with junior high kids in her sons' youth group.