For parents, making sure their kids stay safe while exploring the world wide web has become increasingly difficult.Several dozen parents attended the Keller ISD Cyber Safety program Nov. 19 at Timberview Middle School to try to get some strategies to help their children be good digital citizens and avoid negative influences.“There really isn’t an expert out there because it changes so fast,” said Ricky Lewis, executive director of Teen Lifeline, a North Richland Hills group devoted to helping students in crisis. “I want to give you some tools so you will not be overwhelmed and to help you wake up to what is going on.”What is going on is the exponential growth of social media and online access. In 2000, young people ages 16 to 24 spent on average less than three hours online each week. By 2012, the average was 25 hours a week, according to Lewis. Facebook was established in 2004; nine years later the social networking site has 1.1 billion users from around the world.The risks kids find online include cyber bullying, exposure to inappropriate content, online predators, posting personal or inappropriate information and sexting.Cyber bullying can be a huge problem because teens and pre-teens can be connected to their friends 24 hours a day, Lewis said. He suggested that parents insist that kids leave their phones charging in another room at bedtime and establish times when they can and can’t use technology.A child who is a victim of cyber bullying may stop using the computer or phone, become nervous when receiving an email or text, get uneasy about going to school and withdraw from friends and family.Parents can help their children by saving evidence, blocking bullies, setting up new accounts, talk to school officials and report the behavior.Lewis said that kids are often reluctant to delete an account but doing so and setting up a new one allows them to reject or block those who communicate in negative ways.A lot of kids are no longer into Facebook but instead use Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. Lewis said that parents need to have student user names and passwords and follow their kids online. They should also know how to make the most out of privacy settings.When following their children online, parents should focus more on positive communication than they do on the negative because it reinforces good online interactions, he said.Teens should know that anything they post online could be seen by anyone. Lewis said that even Snapchat, known for deleting photos after ten seconds, can be hacked to find images that supposedly were gone forever. Once they post something, it is out of their control. Parents can be proactive by adopting one or more approaches: Internet filtering software, programs that record key strokes, manually monitoring accounts and phones and setting times to be technology free as a family.Kaye Dawson, a Fort Worth mom of two KISD students, said she found the presentation informative. “There’s a lot of technology out there that I don’t know about. I wanted to see what’s available to make sure they’re safe.”To view information from the presentation on cyber safety, go to bit.ly/kisdcybersafety.
Sandra Engelland, 817-431-2231 Twitter: @SandraEngelland