Danger isn’t in the technology itself

week8ipadHave you heard about the latest online technology? You know, the one that lets kids sext? What about that one where there is bullying going on? How about the one that lead to that kidnapping of that girl after she was stalked by an online predator?

Online dangers for children are real. Let’s get the statistics for that out of the way before talking about the benefits of technology for kids. According to stats from The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 93 percent of teenagers use the Internet and 55 percent of those have profiles on social networking sites. Twenty-one percent never restrict photo access to strangers and 46 percent never restrict video access. Thirty-four percent of children surveyed said they were exposed to sexual content online and 55 percent of those did have some sort of child protection software installed on the computer they were using.

Even scarier, 34 percent of teens who use the Internet post their real names, addresses and phone numbers online. Forty-five percent were asked for personal information by strangers and 30 percent consider meeting someone they have only met online. Fourteen percent said they ACTUALLY MET a stranger they talked to online.

week8dialupI remember when I first logged on to the Internet. It was 1995 and it was so very exciting. The thought of being able to talk with friends in other places and look up information with a few key works was like something out of a movie. I was one of two students trained at a small schools conference to go back and teach educators and other students how to use the Internet. Can you imagine? Training someone how to use the Internet. That’s unheard of today. We simply know how. Back then, though, you had to place a phone receiver next to a computer part and dial a number to connect. That sound of shhhh-bee-shhh-squaaaaaaaaaa-ding-ding-ding-shhhhhh of dial up is only now heard in “old” movies.

The school librarian istalled a program called Cyber Patrol on the computer that blocked lots of sites that were actually legitimate. I remember thinking, I’m 16. I don’t need an online babysitter. But that wasn’t the truth. Looking back, I was nieve. The libarian was trying to shield students from the same sexual content, predators and scams, that adults try to shield students from in the “real world.” With her guidance, a whole world of possibilities opened up online. It was a bit magical, back then.

week8angrybirdsNow, technolgy is intuitive. Log on once and your laptop, smartphone and iPad remember how to do it the next time. It’s easy to find what you need by the use of apps. Want to watch a video? Hit the YouTube app. Want to play Angry Birds? Find the icon and you are off. Children are able to use touch technology at an early age and that means we should begin talking to children about online safety as soon as they have that access.

With that parental and adult guidance, just as was given to me by the school librarian, technology can be a wonderful thing. Studies have show that technology, including video games, improve motor skills, boost reading skills, and even promote creativity and scholastic motivation. With a few clicks, children can be exposed to polar bears in the arctic, a celebration in Japan, what dinosaurs might have done in their day-to-day lives, take a trip to the moon and much more.

Being fearful of lurking online danger should be no reason to deprive children of technology that can help them learn and grow in ways our parents never imagined for us. There are a few easy things parents can do to keep kids safe online, while allowing for the use of technologies, including the Internet.

  1. Decide where a child can and can’t go on the Internet. We do this in our everyday lives. Adults know where and what is safe for children. Apply the same rules online as you do in real life.
  2. Increase security. We do it for our homes. We should do it on our computers. Block inappropriate content. Use antivirus software. Create multiple user accounts so that children have different access to sites than adults.
  3. Monitor social media. Privacy is important, but keeping children safe is more important. Facebook and Twitter accounts should only be created with permission, and with parents having access to a child’s account.
  4. Talk to kids about online predators. We have the conversations about strangers children might come in contact with on the street, at a friend’s home or anywhere else. Predators hang out where children are. These days, that includes the Internet.

It’s important for children to be able to navigate the online world before they are exposed to it at school. Technology use is increasingly being put into play at schools. The local high school here has issued an iPad to every student. That’s a great responsibility for a child, but also a great opportunity.

Online dangers for children are just as real as real life ones, but that doesn’t mean that children should be kept far from smartphones and iPads. In fact, that’s quite the opposite.

Just like in real life, children need guidance. It’s up to adults to point out dangers and that’s no different when it comes to online technology. When people refer to smartphone applications as gateways to misbehavior, I’m often reminded of the phrase, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” Snapchat didn’t make your kid send a naked photo of themselves to someone else. Your kid did that. With a little adult guidance and monitoring, technology is a valuable tool that is vital to the growth and success of children.

Interested in some of the best educational apps out there for kids? Summer is just around the corner and here are 10 apps – some educational, some fun – that are good for elementary school children. And here’s Mashable’s list of their top 5 kid apps for the week.


Posted on May 12, 2013, in New Media, Social Media, Strategic Communications, Technology. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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