November 3, 2015

7 FAQs By Parents About Internet Safety

Cammie Allen
FAQ button on a keyboard

As classrooms adjust to new technology, parents must, too—being involved with homework, projects, communicating with teachers, and checking grades and announcements online. However, you don’t have to be a computer expert to get involved and be in the know, and it can help to have a realistic sense of the risks children actually face online. Below are some frequently asked questions from parents regarding technology in education.

1. How do I know my child will be safe online?

Whether your child is in school that gives every student a device (known as “1:1”), or accessing the Internet using a library or shared computer, it’s important to know what your school is doing to keep students safe on the devices they provide. Back-to-School Night and parent/teachers conferences are a great forum to discuss this topic. You should also feel free to email your child’s teacher.

More and more students are using the Internet at an earlier age, so teachers are incorporating Internet safety and responsible online citizenship into their curriculums. In addition to relying on the students to follow all the rules, several school districts are investing in and installing software on students’ devices to control access to inappropriate content and prevent other malicious activity. In 2000, Congress passed CIPA—Children’s Internet Protection Act—to control the content students are exposed to on school devices and wireless networks.

The same rules that are in place at school should be reinforced at home. Empower yourself as a parent to make rules that fit in with your family’s lifestyle, which may include when devices can be used for non-homework reasons.

With rules in place, it’s important to keep conversations open— between parents and teachers, teachers and students, and parents and children. Encourage children to alert a parent or teacher if something online doesn’t seem or feel right. Having open conversations with reasonable expectations outlined is one of the biggest predictors of whether children will inform adults if they encounter bullying or inappropriate communications online.

2. How can I help maintain my child's privacy?

Students’ online privacy is important to safeguard—both inside and outside the classroom. Fortunately, in 1998, Congress put COPPA (Child’s Online Privacy Protection Rule) into place to protect children under 13, and to control information collected from children online. Other legislation is designed to protect all children under age 18.

As a parent, there are other steps you can take to ensure your child’s privacy:

  • Read and understand privacy policies of sites your children visit.
  • Read and understand privacy policies of any third party apps your children want to download—BEFORE they download. (Note: Do not allow students to download anything to a device that belongs to the school without the school’s permission.)
  • Password protect your wireless network.
  • If your children must create passwords, teach them to create strong passwords (e.g.: a mix of numbers, symbols, capital letters, and lowercase letters.)
  • Turn off your browser’s location feature.

Unfortunately, there are people out there who do not follow the laws of the Internet, and children need be aware of the risks when they are online.

Teach Your Children:
  • Not to share log-in credentials with anyone but teachers and parents.
  • Not to share any personal info such as name, age, birthday, phone number, email address, or where they live.
  • Not to communicate with anyone they do not know.
  • Not to send photos of themselves or others.

And continue to instill one of the most important rules—once something is out there, you cannot get it back!

3. Is there a way for me to check in on their online behavior?

Most devices students use in the classroom (and bring home from school) should have online controls in place including content filtering/blocking and activity flagging, which prevents students from accessing inappropriate content. If your child’s school doesn’t control online content, discuss your concerns with the teacher or school administrator. Parents can be very influential in convincing districts to allocate budgets in this area.

At home, your child should be following the school rules and family rules you’ve created—if you have concern, your Internet browser provides a “check browser history” feature which will display a list of the web pages your child has viewed. Another popular method to monitor online behavior is to have your children use the Web in your home’s common areas—and not behind their closed bedroom door.

4. How is my child’s personal and academic data collected and used?

Students’ academic information is protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), a law enacted to protect the disclosure of educational records. There may also be other state laws that protect children and their educational records as well. It is still important to enforce the best practices of internet safety with your child, and know how they are using the Web. Ask their teachers and school administrators if there is any student data being shared through educational apps and websites used at school, as this varies by classroom, school, and district.

5. Does online time inhibit “real” social skills?

If the only social interaction your child has is with the computer, the answer is “yes”. With most children, the answer is “no”. Some students—depending on personality types and learning styles— find that interacting online is easier than sharing in a group dynamic face-to-face, so technology can actually be a benefit to their social skills and build confidence.

If using the Internet outside of homework becomes too much of a distraction for your child, set and enforce rules around “unplugged” time.

6. Will I be able to keep up with the tech changes?

Like students, parents have different comfort levels with new technology. Whatever your comfort level with new technology is, get involved with your child’s online activities and don’t be afraid to ask questions of your child or their teacher. Encourage your children to show you what they’re doing on their devices, and even consider role-playing where they are the teacher or parent and you are the student. Above all, trust in the teacher’s’ ability to introduce new technology that is appropriate for your child.

7. Should I give my child their own device or mobile phone?

Every family and every child is different. A variety of factors—everything from cost, to extracurricular activities, to homework requirements, to personal beliefs—come into play when deciding if and when to give children their own devices. This is a personal choice to which there is no right or wrong answer, and should be decided by each family. Talking to your child's teacher and other parents in your community may help you decide, though ultimately a reflection on your own child's needs—not those of their peers or friends— should be the deciding factor.

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