Beyond these outside influences, there’s also the concern of the harm kids can inflict upon themselves in cyberspace via computer or cell phone. The emergence of social media has certainly raised the stakes. Posting the wrong picture or an inappropriate comment can have a lasting and very negative impact well beyond adolescence.
Today’s reality is that college admissions and potential employers, more and more are going beyond the resume and searching candidates’ online activity and history. Moms and dads need to have a way to be informed and intervene quickly if their children are engaged in questionable behavior.
So what’s a parent to do? Here are tips to help children navigate around the minefield of today’s hi-tech world when it comes to life both inside and outside of school:
Review your cell phone ground rules. Does your child's school allow cell phones in classrooms? Do they have unlimited access to web browsing and downloading? How many text messages do you permit them to send/receive? With school back in session, consider setting limits on some or all of these privileges. Keep in mind that you can contact your cell phone provider to block a specific phone on your family plan from downloading excessive content.
Become familiar with your school’s bullying policy. Unfortunately, school can be a scary and hurtful place for many children because bullies flourish there. Are you familiar with your school’s policy on bullying? Does it include cyberbullying as well? What are the consequences and are the students made aware of them? Do you suspect that your child may be a bully, or a bullying victim?
Get equally acquainted with your school’s Internet policy. Computers are everywhere these days and that includes in your child’s school. What is the school’s policy on Internet usage? Do they protect your child’s privacy and personal information?
Set healthy limits on home computer usage. Do your best to make sure that your child is spending quality time on the computer for homework or other educational purposes. If necessary, move the computer to a shared space (like the living room) and set time limits on how long your child can spend online.
Discuss the dangers of sexting. If you’ve already had this talk with your child, reiterate the consequences (which may include possible expulsion and criminal charges) so that he/she is well aware of them in preparation of the new school year. Even passing along an explicit photo to a friend can make your child an accomplice.
Encourage open dialogue. Without nagging your child for frequent updates, try gently asking how school is going. Show your support and let them know that they’re welcome to approach you if they ever have anything they’d like to discuss.
Geoffrey Arone is the co-founder of SafetyWeb (www.safetyweb.com), the leading service simplifying online safety by helping parents guard their children’s online safety, identity and reputation. The service monitors the web to deliver reports and immediate alerts on irregularities and dangers associated with kids’ and teens’ online activity.