"Must be at least 13 years of age." This is typical language often included within the Terms of Service of sites that our children frequent. It indicates the minimum age required to use the site. But, does minimum age actually reflect the appropriate age for usage? The answer to that question is sometimes, not always – it depends. So why do most mainstream sites use 13 as the minimum age? Basically, it's the age in which a minor can create an account without the online site being burdened with legal requirements governing information collection. Thirteen marks a threshold for easy entry.
As I mentioned above, not all sites are appropriate for a young person. It depends heavily on two main factors: mature content allowed on the site and treatment of that mature content (whether allowed or not). As parents, we can't rely solely on the stated age for use. We must review the site for content appropriateness taking into consideration the age and maturity level of our children. Here are some helpful tips:
- Review the Terms of Service to understand what content is allowed on the site. Does it include prohibitions against sexually explicit content? If not, the content will be available and minors will be exposed to it.
- If a site allows mature content, do they have protections in place minimizing the risk of exposure to minors? Protections would include tools such as a safe search filter and/or age gate to prevent access.
- Search the site using explicit terms or the acronym "NSFW," meaning not safe for work. What's being returned? Were you able to easily find a significant amount of mature content even though the site prohibits it? If so, this is a good indication that the site may not take steps to enforce their terms.
- Is there report abuse button for consumers to alert the site of potential violations? Report a violation to test the effectiveness of the tool.
We don't have to actively use the sites that our kids use; however, we need to understand what they are exposed to on these sites. Once our children are exposed to age-inappropriate content, we can't take those images, thoughts or words away.
I recently spoke at a conference on the risks that youth face online and found myself using the term 'embedded' to describe their relationship with technology. Why embedded? Simply put, their lives can't be separated into an 'online' or 'offline' state, but rather as always on and constantly connected. They live in the Digital World. This is a reality that we, as adults, have created through the rapid adoption and wide-spread use of connected devices, but a concept I don't believe we've fully embraced in terms of practice or infrastructure.
What do I mean by that? Specifically, while we've physically created this always on world - our homes are networked, our schools are wired, and our children are connected; our thought process and approach to personal responsibilities and safety are still very 'online' and 'offline.' Why are we still differentiating? The expectation of knowing and doing right from wrong doesn't alter through the use of technology, nor does personal safety or parental involvement.
The Internet has been mainstream since the mid-90's and has only become more ingrained in our lives through portability and ease of use. Yet, I find we are still discussing how to protect our children at a somewhat basic level. Overcoming this persistent lag will take the realization that we, as adults, must live in the digital world (we can no longer just visit or stay out altogether).
To embrace this mindset, we must embed those once Internet-specific actions, educational efforts and messaging into our everyday lives and the lives of today's children as we have the technology. Let's challenge ourselves - as parents, educators, and others who have a positive impact on young people – not to distinguish 'offline' from 'online,' but view it as one world. Why struggle with determining how we are going to fund or find time to teach our kids online safety when we should be teaching them how to be safe – aren't they one in the same? The structure is there - we parent, we educate, we monitor, we guide, we instill values – let's just tweak the infrastructure so to speak to reflect our digital world.
Since its inception, this feature has caused much hype in IT magazines and online forums. Many ardently claim that this feature compromises privacy and endangers safety, while also presenting opportunities for stalking and other malicious activities. Also, friends can check into a certain location and broadcast who they are with, thus sacrificing the privacy of others. In contrast, other blogs state that while some may view it as privacy infringement, Facebook allows one to alter his or her privacy settings so that Places does not apply to them. It is a service for only those who wish to use it and Facebook works perfectly fine without it.
It is critical to explore this feature and make an informed decision before using it. To its credit, Facebook has implemented certain in built privacy settings for those who choose to avoid Places. First, this is an opt-in instead of an opt-out option. This means that Facebook users must manually choose to enable it; it is not a default setting. Secondly, even if friends have tagged you while "checking in," you can choose to reject the tag. This allows your friends to remain checked in and you to remain incognito simultaneously. The simplest way to disable this feature altogether is to uncheck a box in the privacy settings, under "Applications and Websites." This way, users don't have to worry about instantly untagging themselves.
Although Facebook Places does provide added entertainment and some convenience, it is a feature that must be used with complete awareness and prudence. As with all social networking websites, it is extremely important to steer clear of unsafe online behavior.
Most parents worry about their children social networking via personal computers, smartphones, and iPod devices. Most schools also worry about children social networking during English, Biology, and History. As a result, many schools have banned Facebook and social networking websites on school computers. However, children have found multiple ways to sidestep this ban and access Facebook through the use of proxy servers.
Tech savvy students have found websites that contain step by step instructions to unblocking Facebook and MySpace on school computers. A few such websites include unblock.biz and proxypimp.com. Through the use of these websites, students can mystify teachers and parents alike.
Although school administrators and teachers cannot always ensure that students use school computers for educational purposes, parents can encourage them to do so. Talk to your middle schooler and designate limits on computer usage at home, under parental supervision. Some schools have also taken the initiative to educate students about social networking safely, instead of placing bans and blocks.
Social networking is a concerning issue for many parents. Ease your concerns by educating your child regularly about cyber safety.
The arrival and rapid adoption of portable, connected devices has, literally and figuratively, lifted the computer from our homes and dropped it into our child's backpack. These portable, connected devices pose a greater risk to our children than the home computer because they can be pulled out and used anywhere and at anytime on impulse, and most importantly, without supervision.
You can read my entire article on iKeepSafe's Internet Safety News and Information blog: The Internet in Our Child's Backpack.
The Internet Education Foundation (IEF) today announced the launch of "Net Safety Tips On The Go" (Net Safety Tips OTG), the first-ever digital safety and security advice app for wireless users. Developed with the support of Google and Verizon, this innovative app makes it easy for consumers and families to keep up with mobile and online privacy, safety, and security issues using their Android smartphone or tablet.
The app dispenses quick, practical, friendly advice in easy-to-digest portions - one tip at a time - to help users use the Internet and smartphones safely. These tips offer information on mobile privacy and security, searching and surfing the Web safely, safeguarding your sensitive financial online information and more. The premier online safety education organizations in the world including Common Sense Media, ConnectSafely.org, OnGuardOnline.gov, and GetNetWise.org produce content to feed the app. Other leading online safety, security and privacy organizations are expected to contribute soon.
"Mobile broadband technology provides limitless opportunities for fun, education and entertainment for everyone," said Rose Kirk, Verizon Foundation president. "To make the most of these opportunities, families need to feel comfortable online. Tools such as Net Safety Tips On The Go help provide families peace of mind, knowing they have the knowledge needed to be safe and secure in the digital world."
Mobile app-based education allows busy people to be more personally productive during their hectic days making Net Safety OTG the perfect tool to educate them. "This app is a terrific idea, especially for people whose lives revolve around their phones," noted Larry Magid, Internet safety pioneer and co-director of ConnectSafely.org. "Everything is going mobile, and now we have put crucial online safety and security education in the hands of anyone with an Android phone or tablet," said Tim Lordan, IEF Executive Director.
Net Safety Tips OTG is available as a free download from the Android Market™ and is featured in the Verizon tab of the Android Market™ on Verizon Wireless smartphones. Visit http://netsafetyapp.org for more information, sample tips and download information.
Like many parents, my biggest fear is of something awful happening to my child. It was heartening to me when I first heard that MapQuest and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children® (NCMEC) recently announced the availability of a new widget on MapQuest Local that includes valuable missing child alerts and information from NCMEC.
The new widget features pictures and information about children who are missing from the geographic area for which the MapQuest Local page is set. Also included is the ability to search for missing children by name and link directly to NCMEC's homepage and other missing children resources from NCMEC. The new widget can be found at http://local.mapquest.com
Sexting isn't making anyone any money (that I know of), but 3 in 10 young people report being a part of some kind of naked sexting (either sending or receiving). One in 10 report sending a naked picture of him or herself. This translates into more people sexting than using their cell phone to access pornographic web sites.
Parents are shocked by this, but some teens just see it as a part of life or no big deal.
So what now? We educate the youth. We (as parents) spend time talking with our kids about the realities in the world. We incorporate the new technology into the teachings at school, and we hope for the best. All we can do is teach them about using technology responsibly and the risks that they face. It is up to the youth to decide what to do with the information.
What are your thoughts on how to best educate the youth about the dangers of sexting?
I first checked this blog. I found that Holly posted some good tips for gaming safety of the Wii. I also found some helpful things at the manufacturer's web site (in my case, Wii). I searched the web site for "parental controls" and familiarized myself with how to use them and know to ask Mom and Dad what their password is so I can use it if needed.
Since they are likely going to also want to use my computer, I am also checking my settings on my own computer and installing parental controls. Enough.org, whom I've mentioned before, has some good resources from which parents can learn for all topics technology and safety related. I am more familiar with these topics, but since I haven't had children in the house for any length of time before, I am brushing up.
A few other resources that can help:
ESRB: This is the group who rates all video games by age group and tell why the ratings were chosen (violence, language, etc.) They can tell you
Internet Safety 101 is a resource for all things internet safety related. Since most gaming systems use the internet as part of the play, I am refreshing my knowledge here as well. You can order the entire program for yourself.
Do you have any more tips for my upcoming visit with kids that I may not have thought of?
I don't want to get into all the details about how to sign up and how it works. You can go to the site for those details. Instead, I wanted to share this with you in the interest of sharing knowledge of new uses for existing technology. I don't know how many teens are using this kind of technology, I only learned about it through a few of my friends (all adults).
The basics premise is that you use your cell phone to announce where you are at any given time to your friends on social networks. Here is an example of FourSquare in action when one of my friends went to a local restaurant. (His name and pictures covered for privacy).
Since my friend registered with FourSquare, he has "checked in" 103 times. This means that he posted that he was at a specific location on Facebook and Twitter 103 times.
The badges represent various things including how frequently you go to a specific location and if you have any friends that recently checked in at the same location.
Once you "check in", it shows up on the social networks that you specify. Here is what the check in looks like on Facebook.
And here is what it looks like on Twitter
While there are some benefits to using applications like FourSquare, you want to be careful how you use it. I think it is obvious that you wouldn't want to post your home address. What may not be obvious is that there is some level of risk that if you post your location and often visit the same locations at the same times.
The purpose of this article is to simply show you how existing technology is being used in new ways. It is up to you to decide if and how to use it for yourself and your family. What are some of the benefits you see in using FourSquare? What are some of the risks you see?
This year my nephew, who is 15, got a cell phone. He, of course, had been asking for a cell phone for a long time, citing that all of his friends had cell phones (which is true). One of the contributing reasons he got the phone was that he began to miss out on various messages from his friends because of his lack of a cell phone. He missed messages such as a change of location for whose house everyone was going to, where they were going to eat lunch, etc. These are huge things to a 15-year-old.
The question hasn't changed much since I was a teen. How much is too much? My mother used to worry if I was spending too much time on the telephone (attached to the wall). Now the phone travels with teens. It travels with them when they are driving, in school, at the dinner table.
Do you text? Has the age-old worry just been slightly changed with new technology? Or is this just a matter of teaching cell phone etiquette, but the amount of communication is OK?
NetSmartzKids is a great resource for younger kids. There are games, videos and trivia that are made for the younger users.
Related to NetSmartz, NSTeens.org. This is made for the teens in the house and includes comics, videos and games.
Parents are invited to read past entries on SafetyClicks, learn about the internet safety program from Enough.org and simply talk to your kids about what they do online.
Internet Safety Month may not be the most glamorous celebration this summer, but I think it is one worth celebrating. What do you think you can do to mark the occasion?
3 Simple Rules to Keep in Mind
- Stick with your friends. Have your teens limit their privacy settings to Only Friends. That'll restrict who sees your kids' information, including pictures, videos, and applications they use.
- Keep private information private. When filling out their bios, teens can leave fields blank. There is no need for your teens to post their phone numbers or addresses. These features are optional and aren't required to create a Facebook account.
- Don't let your information get away from you. If your teens haven't restricted who can share their information, their personal data can end up in the hands of marketers. Also, advise your teens to be on the lookout for personal information requests -- like their birthday or music playlist -- from third parties. And make sure your teens uncheck the public search results box so people can't find their Facebook page through a Google search.
What are some simple tips you have to keep yourself and family safe while online?