What Is Your Child Doing Online?
BAY Team panelists at Nayatt School in Barrington talk about the importance of technology manners, and ways to keep kids safe online.
Did you know that more than 40 percent of kids have been bullied online? And that more than 50 percent of middle schoolers have Facebook accounts?
Those are interesting figures when you consider that, in theory, kids have to be at least 13 years old to have a Facebook account.
Tonianne Napolitano is assistant principal at Birchwood Middle School in North Providence. She provided listeners at Nayatt Elementary School on Monday evening, Dec. 5, with some sobering information about what children may be doing online.
Napolitano was one of the speakers at a parent-information session on keeping kids safe when they use technology.
Kerri Payne, head of the Nayatt PTO, said the evening was arranged in cooperation with the BAY Team, Barrington’s substance abuse prevention coalition, as a way to get parents thinking early about keeping their children safe when going online.
Just a handful of parents attended the session. But they were assured that they could make a difference to all children not just their own.
“Talk with other parents about these things," she said. “You, as parents, do matter."
When Napolitano was hired for her position two years ago, she began a broad analysis of bullying within her school. She implemented sweeping changes to assess and address bullying, both in person, and via technology.
Napolitano said one of the crucial factors that many parents may not consider is that we haven’t necessarily taught our kids appropriate codes of conduct when using technology.
“We’ve taught our kids to behave at home and in school, but not in cyberspace,” said Napolitano.
Courney Canario is a social worker at Barrington Middle School and serves on the BAY Team. She was also one of the panelists.
Canario said one of the reasons parental supervision and interaction is critical when kids are using technology is that children don’t yet have the developmental skills to make wise decisions -- particularly when it comes to the long-term implications of those decisions. She suggested that parents consider the internet like a city.
“Some parts of the city are wonderful,” said Canario. “Some parts you’d never want your child to go to alone.”
Canario suggested asking kids what their friends are doing online, outlining some rules for using technology -- such as when and how long for, explaining why you’re limiting access to some things, and encouraging them to “think before sending.”
Canario also said it is appropriate for parents to let their kids know that they would be monitored.
“Let them know 'I’m watching you, and if it’s unsafe, I’ll step in,’” she said.
Steve Phelan, another BAY Team member, is the father of a 5-year-old and the owner of four Verizon stores, including one on Waseca Avenue.
It is possible for parents to have control over what their kids are doing when using technology, Phelan said. He suggested that parents visit sites to learn more about the technology their kids are using. He also said people are welcome to call into any of his stores to learn how they can keep their kids safe.
Cheryl Ann Bertoncini, another BAY Team member and Nayatt School librarian, has worked there for 22 years. In that time, she said, she has seen huge changes in technology.
It is important for parents to remember, she said, that elementary kids are too young to be using technology by themselves.
One of the things Bertoncini does is teach students how to evaluate and recognize a credible and legitimate website. As an example, she showed attendees a website called http://zapatopi.net/treeoctopus/.
It is about an "engangered Pacific northwest tree octopus" that looks genuine, she said, but is a hoax website. She suggested parents encourage their kids to use websites ending in .edu or go through library websites.
“All of the schools have these great databases that don’t get used enough,” said Bertoncini.
As for Facebook accounts, Bertoncini said, she has suggestions for parents to reply with when they are approached by their tween about opening an account.
“If I let you have it, I’m saying it’s okay for you to lie,” she said.
Check out these suggestions from the panelists about good websites to visit:
- www.onguardonline.gov has information for parents about ways to chat with your kids about online safety.
- www.commonsensemedia.org reviews, education, and advice for parents on technology and other media for kids.
- www.parentalcontrolcenter.com is a website from Verizon that provides options for parents to monitor and restrict their kids’ phone usage. Most phone companies provide similar sites.
And check out Goodnight iPad, a parody on that children’s classic "Goodnight Moon" that may be a gentle way to encourage your kids to unplug themselves each night.
Failing that, try unplugging the wireless router yourself when you go to bed.