Tangled Web: Internet Caution for Parents

Eee PC
source: Pete Prodoehl

Oh, what a tangled web was penned long before the Internet existed, but it’s an apt description for the lures and pitfalls that can trap preteens posting on social networks. We interviewed Detective Rich Wistocki, a veteran police investigator and parent educator, about online safety concerns.

PL: What should parents know about allowing preteens to use accounts on social networks?

Wistocki: Adults and children should not be connected to other online. You should be connected to your own children, but not others’. There is too much content on adult pages that should not be shared with kids.

PL: Why are kids under 13 restricted from social networks such as Facebook?

Wistocki: Many things can happen online that kids under 13 do not know how to handle. They typically include cyber bullying, predators, and exposure to adult content.

Predators have many tricks for connecting with kids online. Unsuspecting children want more friends, and they are more likely to accept anyone into their network.

PL: Preteens often post their school and activity schedules with captions like, “Check against your schedule and comment.” Dangerous?

Wistocki: Very dangerous! [Those posts] are alerting their entire network to where they are and when. Kids on average can have hundreds of connections and not all of them are trustworthy. Who knows who they are sharing that information with?

Parents should also note that if security settings aren’t set to “private,” kids are sharing that schedule with the World Wide Web.

PL: If parents suspect their preteens have created Facebook accounts without permission, how should they intervene?

Wistocki: I always recommend that parents [approach the subject] in a positive way prior to accusing them. You could say, “I opened a Facebook account. I don’t know anything about it. Can you show me?” Then, observe [kids’] behavior. Do they know all about it? Ask them how. Remember, you know your child best, so go with your gut. If [he] is too young, remind [him] of the rules and deactivate the account. If kids are old enough and you approve, discuss your rules and expectations for using social media.

A great family contract for social media is here:


ggmathisG.G. Mathis is a mom, and preteen Bible study teacher. On days the Internet service is working, she writes and posts from Duenweg, Missouri—population 1,051.

Asking Your Kids’ Principal about Internet Security

Handy Device

A few weeks ago, Donna Sawyer shared with us some characteristics of a responsible Internet safety program at schools. Today, she follows up with questions to ask the school principals about Internet safety.

  • Do you point students to child-friendly, copyright-free sources for images and video, rather than setting them loose on open source search engines?
  • Are students taught how to craft savvy search statements and use advanced search strategies to locate quality information sources?
  • Are students taught critical thinking?
  • Do you know when the district will make Internet Safety policies public or where parents can access minutes of the meeting where they talked about the policy?
  • Can you help me better understand the school’s Acceptable Use Policy and Internet Safety Policy?
  • What problems does the school Internet filter present in the classroom? Why?
  • If teachers are unhappy with a blocked Web site, what is the procedure for having it unblocked? Who is involved in evaluating the online material that teachers request to be unblocked?
  • Do teachers know how to build collections of free quality educational videos or Web sites, even if the district filter blocks access to them? For example, if YouTube is blocked, do teachers know how they can build rich collections of grade-level YouTube videos, bypassing inappropriate YouTube content?
  • How can I help as a parent?

Would you add any questions or concerns about Internet safety in schools? We’d love to hear what you have to say in the comments.

For even more from Donna, read "School Technology Problems" in our August 2011 issue.

Photo used with permission of Flickr Creative Commons. Click on photo for source.

Internet Safety at School

How easy would it be for your children to see Internet content they’re blocked from at home at their school? Donna Sawyer tackles "School Technology Problems" in our August issue. Here are some more tips from her.

computer lab

Characteristics of a Responsible Internet Safety Program

  • A balanced approach to using online resources emphasizes guidance in showing students how to safely navigate the Web. Teachers select sites which support the curriculum and point students toward developmentally appropriate information sources, which have been evaluated and proven valuable for classroom use.
  • Teachers receive quality training in how to equip youth (and others) to safely, responsibly, and productively use technology. This training incorporates knowledge from child development research to support the development of the whole child, ensuring their academic as well as their emotional, social, and physical development.
  • Students receive in-depth training in online safety and digital citizenship before gaining access to the Web.
  • Students are acquainted with consequences for misuse of technology, which address the child’s need for direction instead of treating technology as a reward that should be taken away. For example, rather than merely removing the child’s access to technology, the school responds proactively.
  • There are dynamic community outreach activities where local businesses show parents how to set parental controls for cell phones, gaming devices, or computers at the point of sale and parents are trained to guide their children’s use of the Internet, with a focus on appropriate ways to monitor safe use of the Internet.


computer class

  • Procedures are in place for parents and students to indicate they will share responsibility for ethical and responsible use of school technology.
  • The school staff models appropriate use of technology and firmly enforces reasonable age-appropriate standards for online behavior at the beginning of the school year.
  • The school uses subscription-based social networking tools (e-mail, blogs, wikis, etc.) with no ads and a full range of protection features.

 What do you think about Internet usage in your kids’ schools?

Photos used with permission of Flickr Creative Commons. Click on photos for sources.