Safety Is First and Foremost in Our Home

A week or so ago, I was invited to attend an event in D.C. Though I am quite happy to be a work-at-home mom every now and then I like to pretend that I am a professional working person. I dress for success. Leave my house early. Commute in to the city. After a few hours, I am good and ready to get home to my cozy, comfy clothes and my chilly, yet home-y home office.

AT&T was a sponsor of the Family Online Safety Institute annual conference. The Family Online Safety Institute or FOSI is the leading advocate for online safety. Like me, you are probably a strong advocate for making the internet a safe place for young and old. Truly, I could never have imagined the opportunities available to kids back when I was a mom of a newborn. Times have changed. That newborn is on the verge of turning 16. How on earth did that happen?

I attended Day 2 of FOSI. Here’s what I learned…

Frederick Lane — author of Cybertraps for the Young — is an attorney and computer forensics expert. He began his presentation by telling us what we all know to be true…that kids are now capable of doing things on the internet that they were once unable to do. A case in point, my oldest at 3 was able to use the computer if she sat on my lap. Many of the PC games were tough to play even with the mouse. My youngest at 3 was already playing Webkinz and other online games without help, but a whole lot of supervision from mom and dad.

Lane took us on a trip down memory lane when he reminded us that the devices of old were uni-purpose…typewriter, clock. Today’s kids are well versed in apps, smartphones, iTouch, iPad, and iPod, and other tablet devices. Lane, an attorney who specializes in computer forensics, explores the legal implications of online acts. What are the legal implications for kids, teens, and adults?

As a parent of 3 school-aged kids, I know all too well how damaging cyberbullying and cyberharassment can be. With the advent of mobile devices, kids can bully and be bullied from anywhere. I had heard about Phoebe Prince — in fact I saw Piers Morgan interview her mother last night, but I hadn’t heard about other victims like, Stephanie Burlingame from the U.K., Jeff Johnston from the U.S., Jesse Logan, Tyler Clemente from Rutgers University, or about perpetrators like, Eric Stenkel.

Lane explained that education is key, as well as observation and monitoring. As Lane put it supervision of your kid is not an invasion of privacy. Kids need to be taught how to become digital citizens. Parents, and teachers are their primary teachers.

Next up was a university lecturer from Bristol. Paul Howard-Jones’ voice reminded me of home. I’m originally from Manchester. Jones is a university professor and researcher on neurology. His site is

Howard-Jones spoke on a topic near and dear to me — The Impacts of the Internet on the Brain. Haven’t you wondered what the effect of computer use will be for everyone down the road? 20 plus years ago, I had never heard of computers. Now I use a computer, laptop, or smartphone multiple times a day. All 3 of my children will more readily reach for an electronic device to answer a question than a book. Professor Howard-Jones talked about the elasticity of the brain. He explained that the brain will rewire for any thing we experience. Food for thought.

A recent social networking study found that social networks increases interaction and relationships. But, too much of anything is never a good. Howard-Jones explained that too much computer time leads to too little sleep. Ever see a teen or young adult texting in to the wee hours of the morning? We need sleep so that our brains can switch from encoding information to the consolidation of information acquired during the day. Teens who text at night are very likely to experience daytime sleepiness.

Of note…the AAP recommends 2 hours of screen for children. Are your children like mine? Depending on the day… one day my kids may spend a great deal of time staring at screens while the next day they are outside playing. Depends on the day.

Howard-Jones posited…are video games the environmental equivalent of Ritalin? Video games can be seen as “teachers.” Highly social games can teach empathy. As we know, violent video games can teach aggression.

So, the bottom line is…

  • Excessive internet use, like any other activity that you do without taking consistent breaks, is not good for you.
  • Excessive use can cause disrupted sleep.
  • Violent games can cause kids and teens to exhibit aggressive tendencies.
  • Practice moderation.
  • Limit screen time for kids and teens. And for yourself!

After a tasty lunch, I chose one of the breakout sessions — Mom & Dad Bloggers Speak Out. My good friend, Leticia/@TechSavvyMama was one of the panelists. The panelists and audience agreed that parents need to be actively involved in their child’s online world. While teachers are there to assist parents, parents must be aware of what sites their children are visiting.

Seize teachable moments, like a Leticia’s suggestion of a dinner table conversation, to start a conversation. Get the ball rolling. Don’t be shy about asking kids to explain how a certain site or device works. Kids love to be the teacher. Chances are good that while you are chatting about your kid’s favorite app, you can talk to them about ways she can stay safe online.

One audience member likened the discussions between parent and child about online safety to the sex talk. You wouldn’t let a stranger give your child the sex talk, right? So why would you allow your child to play online without supervision? Of course, as your child ages you will want to pull back to give your tween and teen the space to make mistakes and learn from their mistakes. But, for the preschoolers and kids, you will want to begin by sitting beside them as they navigate the web through online games, apps, email, or text messaging. I’m starting that process with my youngest as we recently gave him an email address.

One of the audience members was from Club Penguin. He explained that Club Penguin will email parents if their child is cyberbullying or acting inappropriately online at CP. A colleague of mine, Mary Kay Hoal founded a site online where kids and tweens can be well, kids and tweens! No adults are allowed on Parents are contacted if their child is not being a good digital citizen on Mary Kay, an online safety and parenting advocate, shares her online safety tips, resources, and practical suggestions on her blog.

AT&T is committed to investing in safety and parental controls. To learn more about AT&T’s safety controls and initiatives, check out the AT&T Smart Controls page.

I was compensated by AT&T for attending FOSI — the Family Online Safety Institute annual conference. I was also given an AT&T Impulse 4G phone. The views expressed in this post are my own. I follow the tenets of Blog With Integrity.

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