Local experts offer tips for protecting kids online in workshop

ANDREW D. BROSIG/STAFF xxx Students work on the computer in a class Thursday at Bonner Elementary School in Tyler. Keeping youngsters safe in cyberspace will the the topic of a Cyber Safety 101 workshop Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the district Career and Technology Center, hosted by Tyler ISD and Tyler Council PTA.. Andrew D. Brosig/Tyler Morning Telegraph xxx

Teens want freedom and privacy, but too much of either can be dangerous when it comes to Internet use.

There will always be risks for youngsters on the Internet, but parents can mitigate the risks by setting expectations and monitoring their children's online activity, said speakers who will lead a cyber safety workshop for parents this week.

Tyler ISD and Tyler Council PTA will sponsor Cyber Safety 101 at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Career & Technology Center, 3013 Earl Campbell Parkway, to give tips and safety measures parents can take to provide a safe online experience for their children.

"You should be involved with your kids' lives," Tyler Police Officer Kerri Long, who will be one of the speakers, said. "A parent and teenager should be in a good communication relationship (so) that the parents should be able to go into a teen's room and know their teen's passwords and know what the child is doing online," she said.

 

BLOCK INAPPROPRIATE CONTENT

It's possible to block certain inappropriate websites so teenagers can't visit those sites, Officer Long pointed out.

James Wansley, lead software developer for The Genesis Group and another speaker for the cyber safety presentation, said if ever there is an online account that his children hold that he does not have the username and password to, he deletes it.

"It only has to happen once before they realize that you mean it," Wansley said.

"If something inappropriate is happening, I can tell them I don't want to see it again," he said. "If I've told them in the past it is inappropriate, then they lose their autonomy and become micromanaged. There are child search filters you can put in place."

 

SUPERVISE INTERNET USE

Parents should supervise their use of the Internet and regularly check online communities their children go to online, Wansley said.

The Internet, Wansley said, is like a movie theater showing different movies on several different screens and you've got to make sure your kids are going into the right movie. You have to be able to go into those theaters and do an audit to see what they are viewing."

Wansley suggested parents put time limits on their children's Internet use - for example, only allow them to use the computer or phone until 8 p.m.

 

IDENTITY PROTECTION

Parents should caution children and teenagers against putting their personal information on the Internet, Wansley and Officer Long said.

Youngsters' names, address, age and the school they attend should be kept private, Officer Long said.

"You don't know who that person is you are talking to. In a lot of these chat rooms. Teenagers think that they are talking to teenagers, and it could be an adult, it could be a pedophile. You never know," she said.

Officer Long suggested teenagers never arrange to meet with a person they have met in a chat room online. "They could be kidnapped, they could be murdered and they could be sexually assaulted. You have no idea who these people are," she said.

Relationships that youngsters form online need to remain limited to the Internet until they get to an age where they can accept the consequences of how that meeting is going to go, Wansley said.

However, there are age-appropriate chat rooms that are monitored and curated, Wansley pointed out. There is parental control software available, such as Questodio, he said.

Wansley added that parents should caution kids from sharing information about others who live in their house, such as who their dad works for or the city that the family is from.

 

LIMIT CERTAIN DEVICES

Wansley also suggested eliminating the use of webcams, mobile video devices and other image-capturing hardware.

"Your kid should not be filming themselves until they are around 16 to 18 years old, and they realize the consequences of what they are doing. Otherwise they are chumming the water for child pornographers," Wansley said.

Once a picture is out there, teenagers can't get it back and what they do now affects their future, Officer Long said. "Everything needs to stay private," she said.

Some things in a family yearbook are embarrassing and when taken out of context on the Internet could lead people to believe you have a weak moral fiber, Wansley warned.

A lot of boys and girls in high school think they are sending something lewd or vulgar to somebody that will be short-lived and never seen again, Wansley said. "It's not that way. It's online in digital format. Somebody can always copy it," he said.

 

BEWARE OF CYBER BULLIES

Tyler Police Department sees a lot of cyber bullying on different Web sites, Officer Long said.

She suggested parents who suspect bullying reach out to the parents of the other child. If that doesn't work, then maybe the school needs to be involved, and if it reaches the point of harassment or a physical threat, police could need to get involved, Officer Long said.

"We (police) can try and stop it. We can talk to the (bullying) teen and talk to the teen's parents. It just takes maybe a phone call from the police officer to the teen's parents. It usually stops," she said.

One way to react to cyber bullies is to "take them out of your life as much as you can … ostracize them and unfriend them and encourage other people to do so," Wansley said.

 

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SAFETY TIPS FOR PARENTS TO PROTECT CHILDREN ONLINE

1. Supervise use of all Internet-enabled devices, know your child's online activities and friends and monitor your children's browser history.

2. Supervise the photos and videos your children post and send online, and discourage the use of webcams and mobile video devices.

3. Teach kids how to protect personal information online and to follow the same rules with respect to the personal information of others.

4. Be sure your children use privacy settings, set age-appropriate filters and consider using monitoring software.

5. Instruct your children to avoid meeting face-to-face with someone they only know online or through their mobile device.

6. Teach your children how to respond to cyber bullies.

7. Set time limits and consider using time-limiting software.

8. Disallow access to chat rooms and only allow live audio chat with extreme caution.

9. Know your child's online friends and limit your child's instant messaging contacts to a parent-approved buddy list.

10. Use safe search engines, set age-appropriate filters and use parental controls on mobile devices .

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