Parenting a teen can be a rough road. The school has given your child a laptop. He or she has convinced you that they need a cell phone and they have also negotiated for texting and data services. You put in wireless internet so the laptop can be used anywhere in the house- or you live close enough to someone who has that your child uses their network.
All of a sudden it dawns on you – I don’t know what they are doing! I hope they are ok. But how do I know?
The teen years are not always a time of great self-disclosure. If they could put up a tangible perimeter fence, many would. And electrify it if possible. We are expected to have the checkbook at the ready and not to ask too many questions…like, why do you have to be online all the time? Who are you talking to? Do you sleep?
The reality is that as a parent, you DO need to know what your child is doing online. The technology continues to grow exponentially and it isn’t going away. At this point, any conversation about online safety needs to include cell phones as well, as the lines between personal computers, cell phones, and iPods are becoming increasingly blurred. Most cell phones allow students to take and send photos. The Apple iTouch is a pocket computer. The iPhone? Everything all in one- phone, internet, iPod. We are not far off from the time when a student can have a laptop that goes through a filtering service and a phone that connects via your cellphone provider’s satellite- offering the world, uncensored.
At HDHS, we drive home the point that students have no expectation of privacy on their laptops. They can be and are checked randomly and regularly by staff and administration. Students are expected to follow the accceptable use policies that they signed and agreed to. Phones and iPods are not monitored by staff. This is where you come in!
You can be a part of this from home. Here are some guidelines for parents in dealing with laptops once they reach your house:
1. Start the conversation about good digital citizenry and keep talking. Let them know your expectations. Talk to them about the problems with posting inappropriate photos and comments on social networks. Encourage them to KNOW the people they talk to online. The idea of “friends” has changed drastically since we were in high school.
2. Establish useage zones in your home. No teacher will ever assign a project that needs to be done in the student’s room…with the door shut…late at night. Having the computer used in a common area (albeit a calm, quiet one) can do a lot to help your child stay within acceptable parameters. It also lets you see what they are doing.
3. Give the laptop a bedtime. Sometimes kids can’t disconnect. The fear of missing part of a conversation or a Facebook update or whatever vital piece of that evening’s social fabric may keep a kid connected well into the wee hours of the morning. Ditto trying to beat that one last level of a game. Establish time limits for your child. If actually removing the laptop from their hands is problematic, then limit when your child has internet access. Most service providers have parental controls built in that you are already paying for. They will teach you how to enable them. (This does mean, however, that YOU may not have internet access either.)
4. Read the details of your cell phone bill. These bills contain a wealth of information about your child’s activity. You can see who your child is calling/texting, and when. Are they on the phone all night? Check for data transfers and downloads. Ask what they are sending and receiving. You are paying the bill – you should know what you are letting your kids have! Perhaps the cell phone needs a bedtime as well.
5. Learn to check the internet history. The laptops at HDHS use Safari for internet surfing and are filtered both at home and at school via our proxy server. This does not mean that everything that kids shouldn’t see is blocked! Students are notoriously good at getting around things. Check the history and see what they are doing and when. And – if the history is erased, this is a great opportunity to begin a conversation about why.
5. Determine ahead of time how you will react if and when your child slips up. It can sometimes be shocking to discover what they are up to. When you are upset with your child is not the time to mete out punishments (I was apt to want to take away everything but inhaling when I was upset!). Let your children know the consequences of GOOD behavior online as well as “bad.” Then stick to it.