Managing Technology with Children
Managing Technology with Children
While we focused last week on how we are using technology at school, in the next two weeks we will focus on how to help guide your kids’ technology use at home. At school, we have the benefit of objective-based learning. Our students aren’t on a laptop or iPad just to kill time. They are researching a topic, applying a math concept via an online game, accessing a library of eBooks, or collaborating on a group project. At home, technology can be a little less structured and a little more leisure-based, leading to an increased opportunity for meandering about Youtube for hours on end or stumbling across harmful content.
Mark Carnahan is an ICS parent who has worked in the IT field for many years. His four kids span from second to seventh grade, so he is very familiar with the unique challenges each stage brings – especially with what they’re interested in online. Below, he shares his insights and suggestions on topics including social media, device selection, filtering options, and what to do when you don’t know what to do.
Being an IT professional and having four kids, I get asked about online safety for kids a lot. As you can imagine, it is a tough topic to cover because technology is constantly evolving. I think the best way for me to help is to explain how I approach this for our kids and give you some recommendations.
Protecting your kids online is not all that different from keeping your kids safe as they walk down the street. It’s largely about being observant and knowing what to look for, but it does take a little time and some effort. If you see your kids wandering toward the middle of the street, you pull them back and teach them that it is dangerous. If you see your kids “wandering” on the internet you need to pull them back and teach them about why it is dangerous. Don’t be an internet dictator, instead, become a technology mentor. Instead of saying, “no” all the time, take time to explain why. The key here is that you have to observe and engage. That is hard to do if you can’t see them while they are online, so keeping devices with internet access out in public spaces is a must!
There are technical solutions that can help, but there is NO “magic” software or hardware that will keep your kids 100% safe online. Some solutions are harder than others, but the key here is that you have to engage with your kids or someone else will…
As your kids get to a point where they are asking if they can get on social media sites, take time to understand how the sites work. Don’t let them go crazy and create accounts on every social media site. I would argue that you don’t let them create accounts at all. Instead, I recommend parents open the accounts for their kids. This way you can set all the privacy settings and periodically review their accounts.
Before letting your kids sign up for new service, make sure you understand how a site works and even sign up for an account yourself. Some sites will expose all your information and your contacts information just by joining. Often we run into these types of sites when our kids are involved in group activities like sports teams and there is a need to coordinate activities. Proceed with caution and understand who gets access to your account information, especially any features that allow for geo-location or randomly chatting with strangers.
SmartSocial.com (https://smartsocial.com) is a great resource for getting information about social media sites and have many videos and PDFs that can help explain what to look out for.
I highly recommend periodically reviewing your children’s devices. Things to look for are VPN and/or Proxy applications as well as opening each application and looking for multiple accounts. Often kids will have multiple accounts and change the content of each account based on who the audience of the account is.
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network and is often used by companies to allow employees to work remotely in a secure fashion. Proxies, on the other hand, are servers or routers that will relay your traffic. This can be done for a number of reasons but in this case VPNs and proxies are used to get around a firewall or content filtering.
In the case of a VPN, the traffic is sent through an encrypted tunnel. The tunnel exists between the device and the server and everything sent through the tunnel, including its destination, is encrypted inside a tunnel. The server then relays the traffic to the final destination.
Proxies are similar, but without the encryption and the tunnel.
Both have legitimate uses, some services use them to do content filtering when devices are away from their network and they allow for privacy and security regardless of what network you are on.
There are a number of applications that provide this service. If you check your child’s device and see a new application you don’t recognize, go research it and find the developer’s website. You can go to www.brightcloud.com and check the categorization of the developer’s website and see if it falls into the “VPN and Proxy” category.
In our house we utilize a content filtering service called Cleanbrowsing.org through our router. This inexpensive service allows us to filter content for every device in our network without having to install software. Just a few changes to the router and content is filtered at a very granular level to include enforcing strict filters for all major search engines as well as Youtube and other sites. Even if you turn off the strict filter, when you click search, it re-enables. It’s not perfect and periodically I have to add sites to the block list or to a whitelist (a list of people or things considered to be acceptable or trustworthy), but it does a pretty good job— especially for the accidental click. Another option is OpenDNS.com. Both services offer a free tier and a paid tier. The free tiers generally don’t allow exceptions or the categories are fairly broad.
Another option is Circle with Disney. I have heard a few parents that use it and like it, but there are a few things that work better than others. Circle with Disney is a device that gets installed in your network and pairs with your router and allows you to control individual devices, but do your homework as it has a fairly short list of routers that it is compatible with.
Know When and Where to Ask for Help
Never be afraid to admit that you need help. The internet is big and technology can be daunting at times even for those of us that are in the industry. If you ever feel that your child is at risk online, contact someone for help. Even if it turns out to be nothing at all, it’s better to be sure than to ignore it and have bad things happen. Once information or pictures hit the internet, you can’t get them back and it can cause issues down the road. If you suspect that your child is talking with people online that you don’t know, or they are being cyberbullied, don’t be embarrassed. Just ask for help. Someone more knowledgeable about the internet can help you assess where you are and help to determine if law enforcement or school authorities need to be involved. They can even help you come up with a plan for moving forward. Don’t suffer in silence.