News Column

Cyber Safety, for the Very Young

Feb 20, 2013

Aliana Ramos, The Cary News (Cary, N.C.)

Lori Mathews' 9-year-old daughter has a cellphone, but Mathews keeps it under lock and key.

The same goes for her daughter's email account.

"I am on her like a hawk," Mathews said. "I have all the passwords. I see everything that comes in and out. I let her know the dangers. I'm all for technology, but (young children) need parents with them to support it."

Mathews, a counselor at Baucom Elementary School in Apex, knows first-hand how often children cruise the Internet. She said parents need to keep up.

Children often use sites such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, but they can't yet understand the long-term consequences of their digital footprints, Mathews said.

Baucom Elementary School partnered with the N.C. Department of Justice to host a cyber safety seminar for parents last week.

"We have second-graders who say they have Facebook accounts," said Cindy Holmes, the school's technology facilitator. "We have second-graders who have smartphones."

Eight years ago, Holmes began surveying the school's fifth-graders about their online presence. This year's results, compiled from 144 students' responses, might seem surprising.

Forty-four percent said their parents did not know their Facebook or email passwords; 57 percent said they had a computer or laptop in their bedroom, and 21 percent said they have visited sites their parents have forbidden.

Twenty-two percent said they would not be afraid to meet an adult they met online, Holmes said.

Monitoring is key

With technology changing so rapidly, there's no way to keep up with every new social-media site and Internet craze, said Brandon Madden, an outreach specialist with the N.C. Department of Justice.

So Madden said parents should focus on monitoring their child's Internet use. And they should talk about Internet safety.

Some of the potential dangers include cyber bullying, child predators, "sexting," and exposure to lewd material through seemingly innocuous Internet searches.

"You can install all the filters you want, but it can't substitute for parental guidance," Madden said.

Some children find ways around passwords and filters anyway. They could set up multiple Facebook pages or email accounts, while parents may only be aware of one. Or they could log on through a friend's device.

Madden said parents should do a Google search for their child's name. And they should change the filters on social-media sites so only those with permission can view profiles and pictures, he said.

For elementary-age students, there are specially designed sites such as Yahoo! Kids and Whyville that block a lot of offensive material and allow for parental monitoring, Madden said.

John Dubois of Apex said neither of his children, ages 12 and 9, have cellphones. He said he was happy that cyber safety is taught at the elementary-school level. By federal mandate, all schools are required to teach Internet safety.

"If you can get kids learning about this at a young age they are more likely to carry it with them when they go to middle school or high school, when it becomes more of an issue," Dubois said.

Source: (c)2013 The Cary News (Cary, N.C.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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