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Internet safety tips as students learn online

HARLEM VALLEY — Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, Harlem Valley students have been turning to the world wide web more frequently, whether it’s to connect with teachers about school assignments, retrieve the latest reports on COVID-19 or simply to stay in touch with friends and loved ones during this new normal. With parents assuming the role of teachers and guiding their children through the final weeks of school, they’re likely to find themselves overwhelmed as they navigate both the anticipated challenges and the unexpected ones. Among some of those challenges is making sure their children are safe when using the internet.

Since the closure of state schools on Friday, March 13, the North East (Webutuck), Pine Plains and Millbrook Central School Districts have been checking in to see how effectively students have been learning from home. Recognizing the difference that having clear internet access makes, they have reached out to provide students with either laptops or wireless WiFi routers to ensure that they can access the internet and complete their work. 

There are a number of factors for families and their children to consider when it comes to using the internet safely and responsibly. According to the website for Enough Is Enough, a nonprofit committed to making the internet safer for families and children, cyberbullying stands as the most important online issue for children, followed by privacy and security, inappropriate content, information sharing, healthy digital habits and understanding what’s real versus what’s fake. 

Statistics from the Center of Cyber Safety and Education website at www.iamcybersafe.org have indicated that while 87% of children in grades fourth through eighth were taught to use the internet safely, 29% of them use the internet in ways their parents won’t approve. In a breakdown of where children spend their time online, 63% of children in grades fourth through eighth have reported visiting sites where they can compete against strangers while 59% of them reported that they play fantasy games in which they assume a character’s identity; 50% of them reported that they play violent video games; 21% of them reported that they visit sites where they can chat online with strangers and 17% of them visit sites with sexual photos or adult videos. In a breakdown of the most popular social media outlets that children visit online, the Center of Cyber Safety and Education website reported that 60% of children visit Instagram, 51% visit Snapchat, 41% visit Vine and 28% visit Facebook.

Beyond what their children might be exposed to on the web, parents also need to consider the impact that too much screen time might have on their child’s development. According to a report from the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, some of the effects of too much screen time include sleep problems, weight problems, mood problems, poor self-image and body image issues and less outdoor or physical activity.

To help broaden their own knowledge of internet safety, parents can access several online resources dedicated to educating families about being safe and secure online. In addition to Enough is Enough and Center for Cyber Safety and Education, there’s also the National CyberSecurity Alliance and Family Safety Online Institute. Above all, when it comes to encouraging safe and responsible online behavior, advocates advise parents to start the conversation early and to keep talking.

“Many kids are given their first tablet or internet connected device before they can fully comprehend the power in their hands,” Center of Cyber Safety and Education stated in its Top 10 Tips flyer. “Your parenting will need to change with the technology so research the latest trends and stay on top.”

Other recommended tips for parents include respecting online age ratings; setting up written ground rules for usage times; using parental controls; teaching their children about passwords and privacy; engaging and learning online with their children; and monitoring and communicating what’s acceptable, respectful and safe.

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