How PA Schools are Protecting Kids - Digtially
Computers are present in almost every house, school and coffee shop. With computers comes the Internet, now a staple of our generation. Online access, with all its pluses, presents a concern to many parents.
“Internet safety is rapidly becoming one of the toughest issues facing parents and schools today,” says Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett.
As the first day of school approaches, your child’s safety outside the home is something to think about. Schools now have to stay aware of the problems that the Internet can bring. Unless your child is homeschooled, you’re no doubt wondering how area schools are handling issues such as exploitation or cyber-bullying.
“The first thing we do is we try to provide solutions that help protect,” says Bill Griscom, the director of information services at Lancaster Country Day School. Web filters that block spyware and firewalls that block instant messaging can be implemented. Those precautions help, but education is really the key. “Despite how tech savvy [the students] are, they still have a lack of judgment — and that’s where we try to inform them as much as possible,” says Griscom.
Lancaster Country Day School also has a strict policy of monitored computer time, which means there is constant adult supervision for students. Computer safety education is becoming more prevalent, and some places such as the Carlisle School District have included safety information in their curriculum and on their Web sites. The Susquehanna Waldorf School institutes its own solution: no computers at all.
“What I think is key for our school and our students is that there are no computers in our classrooms — not even in the middle school grades,” says admissions coordinator Maria Wherley. For most schools, however, computers are part of the curriculum. Since that impacts children, parents need to ask some serious questions about computer safety. “As a parent, I would want to ensure that my child was monitored while online in school,” says Diana Woodside, assistant director of education and outreach at Corbett’s office.
Griscom agrees. “You have to have some sort of filtering at place in the school,” he says. “but that doesn’t necessarily stop a student from making a bad decision. It helps get rid of the initial garbage, but there should be lab supervision.”
Safety starts at home. The three main things you can do to be proactive and help curtail problematic situations include monitoring your children, educating yourself and keeping the lines of communication open.
Monitoring your children
“Put your computer in a high traffic area,” says Griscom. “Be a pest and make sure that you’re constantly involved. Ask a lot of questions.”
Although there are web filters and cyber nannies, mother of four Susan Hostetler of Elizabethtown says it’s more important to be a lurking presence to deter your child from visiting certain sites. “Our best line of defense is micro-managing,” Hostetler says.
Keep a list of rules and stick to them. The rules could include limiting Internet usage to a set amount of time each day, making sure you know who your children are talking to online and monitoring which Web sites they are visiting. “My number one advice is that you must be aware with whom your child is speaking,” says Woodside. “Most kids know they shouldn’t give names to people on the Internet, but they don’t know that other things may give out their information.”
She refers to a young girl whose screen name included her school’s mascot. Just from the screen name, a man was able to find where the girl went to school and her field hockey schedule. “Children truly are online experts, but so are predators,” says Corbett.
Long gone are the days when you as a parent could sit back, pronounce yourself outdated and choose not to understand the ins and outs of the Internet.
“That’s just not ok anymore,” says Griscom. “Parents have to keep up-to-date with technology threats.”
With social networks like Myspace, Facebook, Youtube and chatting services like AIM, the nuances and complex social undertones may be overwhelming. Sit down with your kids and learn about the sites they visit. It’s also important to learn instant messaging lingo. That way, you know MIRL is a code red on the parent radar. (For parents who don’t know, MIRL means “Do you want to meet in real life?”)
“Being involved means not only watching them,” says father of four Jim Beeghley of Mechanicsburg, “but understanding what they do in terms of educating yourself about what sites they’re visiting and watching how they interact.”
Even the most innocent Internet search can turn into something dirty. “Do you know that if you are searching on Yahoo for ‘Dick’s Sporting Goods’ — even if you type it exactly like that — how many search responses you get and how many of them do not pertain to sporting goods?” says father of two Andrew Gould of New Cumberland.
No matter what age your child is, an open line of communication is key.
“Talk to your kids about the threats,” says Griscom, “because if your kids don’t know, how can they make informed decisions?”
The anonymity of the Internet has paved the way for another problem: cyber-bullying. Advise your children not to respond to any threats. Michael Werdin of New Cumberland is a Cub Scout Leader. He spoke to his 9-year-old son and to his troop about the topic.
“He’s understanding because I explain it to him in simple English — not so he’s paranoid but so that he’s educated,” says Werdin. “There are things that you shouldn’t see, people that will try to hurt you.”
Cyber safety is developing as a social movement. Corbett, aware of the serious issues such as sexual exploitation, sexual harassment, sexual solicitation, child pornography and cyber-bullying, instituted Operation Safe Surf. The free education service is designed to combat this type of exploitation. Instead of shocking people with statistics, it’s more important to make teachers and parents aware of the problems of this social tool in order to address them.
That’s not to say that the Internet should be denied altogether. “We never advocate keeping a child from using the internet. It is a significant part of our everyday lives,” says Woodside. But, she stresses, parents still need to be involved and aware of their children’s activities online.
Bridget Brennan is a college student and summer intern at Central Penn Parent.
There are plenty of resources that can give you more information on
Internet safety. Here are a few to guide you in the right direction:
This site allows you to see how Attorney General Tom Corbett is encouraging Internet safety. You can print out a brochure on cyber safety and learn more about Operation Safe Surf and Faux Paw, the Techno Cat programs.
This is the official Web site for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Find safety tips, articles on cyber safety and advice on how to talk to your child about the Internet.
Wired Kids is a foundation that teaches parents and kids of all ages about cyber safety. Also, visit www.Aftab.com, the Web site of Parry Aftab, founder of Wired Kids and cybercrime expert.
The site offers basic Internet rules for families and cyber nanny recommendations.