May 24, 2013 | 09:28 PM (BD Time)
24 May, 2013 Friday
Kids and technology: Rules for online safety
Scott Steinberg :
Between smartphones, social networks, tablet PCs and Internet-ready gaming systems, today's families are more connected than ever, with schools, libraries and organizations nationwide increasingly rolling out programs devoted to extolling the virtues of technology. But in the rush to welcome new generations to the growing high-tech community, we're also making a grave mistake by doing perilously little to prepare children and adults for life in a wireless world.
Upwards of 91% of tots are also now video game players, says market researcher the NPD Group, noting children between 2 and 5 years of age as the fastest-growing audience since 2009. They're followed closely by girls and teens, thanks to the rise of smartphones and tablets.
Online safety provider McAfee cites online music, movie and download sites as a major source of potential threat exposure for kids today as well, while mobile watchdog Lookout claims Android device users are 2.5 times likelier to encounter malware than just six months ago.
More disturbingly, rival Norton asserts that kids spend more than 1.6 hours a day online, 62% of whom have had a negative experience, but only a paltry 45% of parents are aware.
Behind the litany of frightening facts and figures (not to mention fears like those preyed upon in viral-video "Take This Lollipop," an interactive horror film that incorporates text and images from your Facebook profile) lurks a disturbing truth.
As wonderful a source of information, resources and new relationships as the Internet can be, even experts are still struggling to define rules of appropriate conduct and etiquette in a world of 24/7 streaming on-demand connectivity.
Consider it scant consolation for many parents, with more than half of 5- to 8-year-old children now using high-tech devices according to nonprofit Common Sense Media. Even more so for caregivers of college students, 78% of whom alone have been exposed to sexually-explicit text messages per studies conducted by the University of Rhode Island.
Thankfully, the future remains bright regardless.
Widespread community outreach programs designed to keep innocent adults from inadvertently spamming strangers with pictures of their kids on Facebook and neighborhood cyberbullying support groups still remain a distant dream. But for parents hoping to bring a little poise and rationality back to the growingly digital and always-on 21st century lifestyle, a few simple common sense rules can help.
Educate yourself: Repeat the following phrase to yourself as many times as it takes to sink in: Homework isn't just for kids.
Dozens of new services, apps, games, gadgets and online destinations launch weekly, all of which offer myriad options for connecting, communicating and interacting or sharing information. Other existing platforms and devices are constantly being refined and updated, or leveraged by users in new and inventive ways.
Only by actively taking an interest in and researching new developments, features and upgrades can one hope to keep abreast of the shifting tides.
Fear of the unknown often leads well-meaning and concerned adults to outlaw, block or ignore new developments in hopes that the perceived problem will simply go away. But parents, like kids, are better served by willingly immersing themselves in the product, service or title in question for purposes of education and become better equipped to make sound decisions given the benefit of firsthand experience.
Take advantage of existing tools: A variety of helpful resources including content-rating systems, usage-tracking apps and software such as Net Nanny and Web Watcher, which filter and oversee Web and search results and usage, are readily available on all platforms.
Many software programs and virtual worlds further come with attached age warnings and descriptors and provide integrated options to block Internet access, limit socializing to approved friends lists only, automatically scrub salty language or confine interactivity to kid-friendly activities.
All offer a base line of defense, helping you prohibit online spending, block inappropriate material and keep an eye on how and when kids are enjoying online access. Strictly reactive measures though, such tools alone are insufficient guardians, as enterprising sprouts can often circumvent restrictions, whether by substituting slang for more common words ("hookup" instead of "dating"), or accessing questionable content from more laissez-faire friends' houses.
Therefore it's also vital that you personally sample products and media (easily accomplished via hands-on demos and free trial accounts), discuss their dangers with children and make a point of maintaining ongoing conversation with kids' about online activity.
Parents can, and should be, a shield against negative influences and dangerous liaisons. But as martial arts advocates have long counseled, a better approach to battle is not to stop, but rather redirect the force of an opponents' attack.
Instead of trying to build walls against the outside world, which can be easily skirted (or may crack under pressure), it's better to provide healthy detours and a road map to more positive routes via informed insight and suggestion.
Set and enforce limits: As an added rule of thumb, it's also best to keep screens out of kids' rooms. To this extent, computers, gaming systems and other connected devices sho
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