Thanks to Broadband for America for taking an interest in the New Neighborhood…

Prepare for the Worst to Enjoy the Best…
Parenting in the New Neighborhood

I was worried when my daughter first started high school. The phone never rang. No friends? That’s when it hit me; they’re all online and it’s the “new neighborhood.”

There have been countless good things about the new “hood.” Hours of fun watching YouTube, invaluable help with homework, sharing information and developing friendships.

But just like any neighborhood, it has a few dark alleys.

Parents naturally worry about online predators but in reality cyber-bullying has become the number one issue of concern. According to an iSafe study several years ago over 42% of kids online had experienced some form of cyber-bullying.

The insidious nature of bullying in the schoolyard is bad enough. Now just imagine that you can’t get away from your bully and you can’t control who reads nasty things about you or sees mortifying photos. Over half the kids cyber-bullied don’t even tell anyone. It’s worth noting that most kids don’t ever use the word “cyber” or “offline” and “online.” It’s their life and when it happens they’re feeling attacked and alone.

While legislators, policy makers, judicial system and law enforcement all have key roles to play in this tangled ball issue there is an immediate need for the industry, parents and schools to step up.

Help kids avoid some of the pitfalls when they’re young. Look at it this way. If you built a pool in the backyard, you’d teach your kids to swim, you’d build a fence, install an alarm…and then enjoy the pool. (By the way, I thought this was an original thought but in doing research I’ve found that well respected authorities have also used this analogy. So much for being uniquely brilliant.)

We could use a far-reaching national awareness campaign and someone to pay for it; the industry to offer more product-based solutions; a strategy for schools including training teachers and making online safety and digital literacy a required part of the curriculum; and parenting tools that address age-specific issues.

Luckily, there are smart people doing great work to help families with online safety. The best advice I’ve come across is a combination of good old-fashioned parenting with some technology savvy thrown in, such as:

• Hold your own child to the same standards online as offline, including treating others with respect. Even good kids try to “flex their muscles” online.

• Place the computer in a common area and sign a contract with your child that lays out your expectations for their technology use (“netiquette”) and then post it next to the computer.

• Be smart about what age your child will be allowed to be on a social network and know exactly what it’s all about. For example, the required age for facebook and MySpace is 13 but since it can’t be enforced some kids lie about their age.

• Set a tone that signals to your child that they won’t be punished if they share a problem they’re having online. Take their concerns seriously. Listen and sympathize but DON’T overreact by taking their beloved computer and/or cell phone away.

• Compliment them when they use good judgment such as not “friending” someone untrustworthy or not passing along hurtful messages.

• Take 7 minutes to watch Common Sense Approach to Internet Safety and encourage your child’s school to take a look, too
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• The “What You Need to Know” video tutorial from iKeepSafe is also a great resource and is short enough to fit into a busy schedule.

To raise good digital citizens we have to be good digital parents but in the end parenting is parenting whether it’s offline or online. All parents and schools should know about the great information out there to help them prepare for the worst while enjoying the best the new neighborhood has to offer.

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