Whenever I have the privilege to speak to a group of school parents, I often witness a disappointing turnout. The same 20 or so parents, the ones who show up to all the meetings and seem to “run” the school, are the ones who turn up. Often, it’s difficult for people to openly ask about the issues they encounter with their children on the Internet. It can be embarrassing to admit your 7-year old son is doing web searches on terms like “porn” and “boobs”. Yet, how can someone like me get the information across and address the topmost concerns of a school community if we don’t get a good level of participation from all the parents and have an environment where honesty leads?
So I’m trying something new yet simple. Before I put together the discussion materials for the upcoming parent meeting, I sent out an anonymous web-based survey to the parents. The response rate was not what I’d hoped but it’s still higher than the number of parents I expect to see in a few weeks at the actual parent internet safety night. And due to the anonymous format, I’m getting far more interesting questions than is usual. Additionally, having time to prepare materials that are tailored to the needs of the elementary school community just makes for a better, richer event as well.
Some of the questions were about use of social networks, email and mobile devices by the children and the family, use of House Rules, issues of misuse as well as positive web use, concerns for things that have happened within the community (allowing us to ask about cyberbullying or other fraught matters), etc.
Just in case you were curious, here were some of the top issues from the open-ended questions that we will discuss in addition to the usual internet safety topics everyone should know:
How to handle it when your child isn’t on social networks or email but their classmates are (and all are under the age of 13.)
How to set limits on video viewing sites to prevent children from seeing inappropriate material.
Using your router to control access to the Internet “after hours” on all devices.
What to do when other children/your child is using/receiving bad language in texts or in gaming environments.
Stopping your child from making purchases on accounts, on devices without permission.
Implementing parental controls on mobile devices.
Setting up limits on emails, such as white lists (approved senders) or sharing account with the parent.
Interestingly, some of these issues are perfect for an open discussion of community values, rather than merely being a technical “how to”. I can’t force parents to not let their children on social networks before they are old enough, I can only remind them of the risk of their child’s account being deleted. Perhaps if they knew the additional social “drama” they are introducing into the classroom, they might feel more committed to upholding the age limits at home. Happy New Year!