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Back-to-School Tips for Parents and Cyber-Students

Hey kids, got those new “learning tools” ready for school?  You know what I’m talking about.  The iPod for Music 101, the smartphone for Communications 201, and the laptop for Essays 301?  Good for you!

All we ask is that you please remember that while these devices can deliver many, many positive experiences, they can also offer an invitation to others who may try to prey on your newly acquired connections to the wired world…if you choose to use them inappropriately.

There are countless stories of innocently created text messages, tweets, photos and videos resulting in a totally unintended set of consequences that can sometimes affect your relationships with friends or give people you have never met a wrong impression of you.  Using sketchy apps, that you know are wrong, can get you in trouble and clicking on links in emails from people you don’t know can cause problems for you and your family.

Perhaps you’ve heard about…

  • The 12-year-old who downloaded a bunch of pirated movies for no particular reason.  He was later punished with a $4,000 fine and his family could have been sued for far more.
  • The lady who discovered that a total stranger knew everything about her teenaged daughter, including her address, school, friends, relatives, and the names of her family members.
  • The young job-seeker who didn’t get the coveted position he really wanted, due in part to the college party photos the hiring manager saw on the applicant’s social network page.
  • One exposure to a virus, worm or Trojan can open up a computer to attacks from hackers – a problem that gets worse if the home computer is linked to a parent's office network or contains sensitive work data.

There is a saying in the Internet world, “If it’s online, it’s forever,” a piece of cyber wisdom that all of us should always consider before clicking on the Send, Post, or Upload buttons.

According to one network security expert, information that is posted on the web should be regarded as permanent just 20 minutes after posting or uploading – even if the originator has deleted the file.  An instructive essay on the forever-ness of Internet, “The Web Means the End of Forgetting,” was published a few years ago the New York Times.

The Internet Safety website of the Washington State Attorney General explains it like this:

“Many teens are very casual with giving out personal information online because they fail to fully understand the ramifications of doing so. You will rarely feel any immediate negative consequences for giving out information. Much of the time you may never understand that there is a connection between something we, a friend, or family member posted and a subsequent consequence.

Think of each piece of information as a drop of water. When a drop of water lands, it is either absorbed, evaporates, or becomes part of a body of water and is indistinguishable from any other drop. But this is not the case with online information.

Comments, actions, or images once posted online may stay long after you delete the material from your site or request a friend to delete your information from their site. You won’t know who else has downloaded what you wrote or what search engine crawled and stored a photo. You can’t know who else sees your comments and judges you by them, nor will you have the opportunity, in most cases, to offer an explanation.

If you want to shed an earlier image and move in new directions, your previous postings may make doing so very difficult. Perhaps an old relationship that you do not want to be associated with any longer remains online for anybody to see. You may have had embarrassing moments documented that won’t go away.

What seemed like a good idea at the time may come back to haunt you in a variety of ways. So think before you post. It is far easier to think twice and refrain from posting than it is to try to take it back.”

Teenagers, What Can You Do?

  • Get permission from mom or dad, their wisdom and experiences provide insight to actual and potential consequences.
  • Be open about your online activities with your Mom or Dad to help you stay accountable, never trust a “close friend” to be your accountability partner for online activities.
  • Consider giving your parents your passwords.
  • Say something like “This Is Permanent” to yourself each time you are ready to hit the Send or Post button.  Have someone take a look at that tweet, email or posting if you are unsure.
  • If you see, read or receive something online that gets your heart racing uncomfortably – don’t just delete it – show it to your parents, a school administrator, or law enforcement officer so they can explain to you about the concern your heart is trying to tell you.
  • If it’s too good to be true, it probably is – always verify before you click.
  • Never plagiarize from online material.  You want to earn the credit for what you do, not steal the credit someone else earned – and teachers have apps that detect plagiarism.
  • Learn how your electronic devices, computers, and the Internet actually work so you understand how they empower and pose risks to you.

Mom/Dad, What Can You Do?

  • Always balance privacy and paranoia when it comes to your child’s online activities and newfound freedom of connectivity.
  • Internet-connected devices belong in the common areas of your home – the family room, kitchen and dining room – not the bedroom.
  • Install Antivirus and Content Blocking and logging technology on laptops AND smart phones….and keep it up to date.
  • Turn on all of the logging capabilities available, show your kids the logs, and explain how and why that access helps you to protect them.
  • On laptops, setup two IDs, one for your teen with restrictions and one for you. 
  • Explore these new tools together with them.  If you find yourself saying, “I don’t know anything about this Internet stuff,” take a class at the library or online to learn the power and potential pitfalls of the internet.
  • Be private and conservative in your own Internet activities as an example to your kids.