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​Kids & Technology - issue​​​​1234

Keeping ​Kids Safe Online

Our interconnected world has ​led to many breakthroughs and positive changes. It has erased borders, started revolutions and granted anyone with an Internet connection access to thousands of years of human learning and understanding. Unfortunately, this new virtual reality has also opened our kids up to some very real dangers like cyberbullying and predatory stalking, dangers that didn’t exist just a decade or two ago.

Bullying, sadly, is part of childhood. There have been bullies for as long as there have been children. But bullying now reaches far beyond physical intimidation and verbal taunting at school. Online bullying via social media is epidemic in our society today, and the repercussions for its victims can run the gamut from falling grades and social withdrawal to self-harm and even suicide.

The combination of teens and social media also has given rise to predatory stalking by pedophiles. Teens and tweens can be lured into online relationships with adults who prey on kids’ inherent vulnerabilities by paying attention to them and making them feel “special.” All too often, what begins as a virtual relationship online can turn very real and very scary when the predator arranges to meet the child in person.

Preventing these dangers should be job-number one for every parent who has an Internet-connected child. And that job starts with careful observation and continual awareness. As a parent, you must know what apps your kids have on their devices and what websites they visit, and then prevent them from downloading dangerous apps and visiting dangerous websites.

Teaching Activity

Check the Apps

As mentioned earlier, you need to know how your kids are communicating online. This means having around-the-clock access to their computers and mobile devices. If they refuse, you have the power and authority to take any device away. While they live under your roof, they are subject to your rules and must abide by them or lose their technology privileges.

During your check, look for mobile devices for dating and “flirting” apps such as Tinder and Blendr. Also look for text and video chatting apps like Yik Yak, Omegle and Kik Messenger, which can be used for sexting purposes. Other social media apps to watch out for include Whisper and, which are hotspots of teasing, taunting and other forms of cyberbullying. You should also be aware of apps such as Poof, which can hide other apps on your kids’ phones and tablets.

If you find these or other potentially dangerous or inappropriate apps or online connections, do some research on how to remove or block them, then take the necessary actions to do so. Once they’re gone, explain to your children why you removed or blocked these apps and connections and tell them not to load new ones onto their phone or other devices without consulting you first.

Apps come and go quickly. Old ones shut down as new ones pop up. As a parent, it’s your job to stay on top of what’s going on in the technology and mobile app landscape. If you have questions, you can call the Boys Town National Hotline® at (800) 448-3000.

Social Skills

Making Decisions

This is a basic social skill that is applicable in myriad situations, but it is especially crucial for kids when they are communicating online. Before your child opens a website, downloads an app or decides to begin a conversation with someone online, they need to take the following steps:

  • Accurately identify what decision you must make.
  • Examine your current choices.
  • If necessary, generate other choices.
  • Look at the potential consequences (positive and negative) of each choice.
  • Pick and follow the first- or second-best choices, based on their potential positive outcomes.

Setting Limits and Expectations for Kids Online

As we said in our previous email in this series, your kids’ access to technology is a privilege, not a right. So long as you are providing a roof over their heads and food on the table – not to mention paying their phone bills — you are the authority in the relationship, and what you say goes.

The key to maintaining this adult-child relationship in a healthy, positive way is to establish a set of rules and expectations that your kids will agree to follow and meet. And as long as your kids do what is expected, they can continue to have access to their devices. But if they break the rules or otherwise abuse your trust, you have the right to take away their access to phones, tablets and any other Internet-connected devices they might have. (Hopefully you have inventoried their gadgets as we suggested in email #1.)

In the following teaching activity, we have suggested certain rules you might want to ​include in your list. But be sure your rules are personalized to fit your family’s situation. You should also let your kids know that you will add new rules as they become necessary. (This can help head off negative behavior before it starts.)

Teaching Activity

Setting Expectations

When establishing rules and expectations, it is crucial that they are well understood both by parents and their children. This means they should be clear, unambiguous and reasonable. Don’t set rules that are difficult to follow or that can easily trip up your kids. The whole idea is to prevent misbehavior so that you don’t have to use negative consequences. After you sit down and make a list of simple rules your kids must follow in order to maintain access to their devices and consume media such as television and online videos, go over them with your kids and explain what each one means.

Suggested rules include:

  • Establishing “down times” when phones, tablets and other devices must be turned off and plugged into their chargers. Mealtime is a great time for this, as is homework time and bedtime. You can also establish “tech-free times” on the weekends when you and your kids can enjoy family activities together, such as visiting a museum or going to a sporting event or the zoo.

  • Making sure your kids understand that as a parent, you have access to and can check their devices any time. This is a big one. They may complain that you’re violating their privacy. But generally speaking, they really don’t have any privacy as minors living under your roof, and they need to accept that fact. That being said, there are times and situations when you can grant a certain level of privacy to your kids.

  • Tying your kids’ school performance and grades to their access to technology. If their grades slip, access should be limited to school-related activities only. That means they can use the Internet to research a paper but not to chat with friends or surf aimlessly.

  • Requiring your teens to phone home at certain times of the evening when they are out, especially if they are going to be out later than planned. And they must always answer any call or text from a parent.

Social Skills

Managing Time

Time management is a critical skill that will benefit your kids throughout their lives. As students, it’s a major component in them keeping up with schoolwork and chores – a requirement that should be included in your technology/media rules and expectations. Teach your kids the following steps and have them practice:

  • List all tasks for a particular day or week.
  • Estimate the time needed to complete each task.
  • Plan for delays, setbacks and problems.
  • Implement a daily schedule that includes planned tasks.
  • Evaluate your time-management plan for effectiveness.

Kids & Technology

It used to be that ​​kids ​consumed electronic media from two main sources: radio and ​television. And while kids still listen to the radio and watch TV, they are much more likely to be plugged in to a wide variety of technological platforms, including DVRs, game consoles, computers and mobile devices such as iPhones and iPads. In fact, kids today often use multiple screens at the same time! It’s not uncommon, for instance, for a tween or teen to be watching a program on television while discussing it with others via social media on his or her phone or tablet.

The upshot of all of this is that technology and media are penetrating much deeper into and having a much greater impact on our children’s lives. They (and let’s face it, many of us) often spend most of the day with their eyes glued to a screen of some kind. And while there certainly are benefits to living an interconnected, plugged-in life, there are huge drawbacks, too. Face-to-face communication skills can suffer. Schoolwork and grades can drop off. And then there’s the dangers posed by cyberbullying and other predatory activities that are made easier by today’s technology.

So what is a parent to do about all this? You can’t ban all interactive technology from your home; besides being impractical, it would deprive your kids from using the electronic educational tools so many schools are using these days. And even with a ban, adolescent children probably would find other ways to get online and access media. A better option is to create a balance between the virtual world and the real world your kids live in. The best way to do that is to be acutely aware of what your kids are doing with technology and media and to develop media-use policies in your home that they will agree to and follow.

Over the next few weeks, you’ll receive three more emails that will provide additional insight on this subject and advice for how to help your teens and tween get the most out of the new technology while protecting them from its dangers. Each email will include a teaching activity and a social skill to teach your children.

The success of those activities and skills, and your media-use policies, rests on one simple rule: Under your roof, technology is a privilege, not a right. You are the authority in your household, and you can grant or deny access to technology and all electronic devices as you see fit.

Teaching Activity

Taking Inventory

For this activity, you should inventory all the devices your children have access to that can connect them to the Internet. Whether it’s a smartphone, tablet, gaming console, computer or laptop, make sure you know what your kids are using to enter the virtual world. Once you’ve compiled your list, you have an arsenal of privileges you can use when giving positive and negative consequences to your kids in response to their behavior. Take time, too, to inspect the apps your kids have on their phones and tablets. In our next email, we’ll talk about safety, including certain apps that can be downright dangerous. You need to know what your kids are using in order to keep them safe.

Social Skills

Accepting “No” for an Answer

Your children must understand that you are the authority in your home. So, for instance, when they ask to stay up another half hour to chat with friends on their phones on a school night, and you say “No,” they need to be able to accept your answer. Accepting “No” for an Answer is a social skill your kids will use often, in many different settings (home, school, work), so it is important that you teach it and they learn it. Here are the steps you can practice with your kids:

  • Look at the person. This shows you are paying attention.
  • Say, “Okay.” This lets the other person know you understand.
  • Stay calm. This allows you to hear what the other person is saying.

These steps might seem simple or obvious. But in practice, using the skill of Accepting “No” for an Answer is a lot harder than it seems. Practicing this skill often with your kids will eventually help them master it and make it second nature for them.

The Benefits of ​Technology for Tweens and Teens

In previous emails, we have warned about the potential dangers modern electronic media and technology pose to children. From simple time-wasting to cyberbullying and online stalking, new technologies can mean new risks to tweens and teens.

That being said, there are a number of great benefits these gadgets offer. On the flip side of the security issue, allowing your kids to have a mobile phone can actually increase their safety because it gives them a way to contact you or the police if they ever get into trouble. And because they carry the phone with them at all times, it is possible to track their movements or pinpoint their location using certain phone settings or apps. (Of course, your kids would agree to this as part of the technology/media rules and expectations you developed after our previous email.)

Another great benefit of Internet-capable devices is that they provide access to vast stores of online information for research and learning purposes. Instead of having to go to a library and wade through stacks of books, kids can search a vast pool of facts and information when writing term papers, completing science projects or working on just about any other kind of assignment that requires research. (Of course, they also need to learn the difference between legitimate scholarly material and the bogus content sometimes created by anonymous bloggers, and that Wikipedia isn’t the be-all and end-all of online research.)

Video streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu also offer access to thousands of artistic and educational films and television series that were once available only at specialty video stores, if they were available at all. This provides great opportunities for your kids to broaden their cultural horizons without leaving your living room. As always, your parental technology controls must be in place so your kids are not viewing inappropriate content.

In the end, new technology – just like old technology – is a tool that can be used for good or for bad. It is up to you to teach your kids how to use technology in a positive way and to make good decisions in their online, virtual world activities. And since kids and technology are going to be inseparable for the foreseeable future, helping your kids get the best out of it while protecting them from the worst will be your ongoing ​responsibility.

Teaching Activity

Using Technology to Learn

Have your kids pick a topic, research it online and give you an oral report. As they do their research, have them compile a list of the sources they used; check the sources later to make sure they are legitimate. The topic can be anything you deem to be appropriate. The key here is to give your kids the freedom to pick a subject they think will be fun or interesting to learn more about, whether it’s the history of the flush toilet or Taylor Swift’s red carpet looks.

Social Skills

Concentrating on a Subject or Task

As with all the social skills we teach in these email series, this particular skill is one that will serve a child long after adolescence. Concentrating on a Subject or Task is a skill that goes hand-in-hand with our teaching activity of researching and delivering a report, and with many school assignments your teens and tweens will receive from their teachers. So before you have your kids begin their research, have them learn and practice the following steps:

  • Promptly begin work on the task.
  • Focus your attention directly on the subject.
  • If your attention wanders, instruct yourself to concentrate on the task.
  • Ignore distractions or interruptions by others.
  • Remain on task until the work is completed.

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