Forum to focus on digital, online safety

By: Maria Allard | Grosse Pointe Times | Published August 20, 2019

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GROSSE POINTE PARK — Parents limiting screen time and monitoring what their children are viewing online via digital devices are common practices in many households.

But parents who would like to learn even more about internet safety are encouraged to attend a digital safety forum from 11 a.m. to noon Aug. 26 at the Cabbage Patch Café, 15110 Kercheval Ave. in Grosse Pointe Park.

Stephen Balkam, CEO and founder of the Family Online Safety Institute, or FOSI, will lead a back-to-school digital safety seminar that will include steps to establish ground rules for safe and responsible use of today’s technology.

FOSI — an international organization with headquarters in Washington, D.C., and London — highlights safety messages, tools and methods to reach parents, children and caregivers about online safety. FOSI, Verizon and Macaroni Kid are teaming up for the Aug. 26 forum.

“It’s for parents, children, families and communities to think about what online safety practices are happening in this day and age,” said Andy Choi, PR manager with Verizon. “FOSI has been a watchdog group for some time. They give out best practices to good online parenting.”

“We are all transfixed by our devices,” Balkam said. “I will talk about being a good digital parent, how to talk to your kids, how to confidently navigate the web with your kids, and how to be a good role model. We will try to address the risks and the rewards of (the internet).”

“With the back-to-school season, it’s a good time to sit down with your kids and tell them, ‘These are the rules,’” Balkam said.

Balkam suggests having your children help with setting the rules. Another recommendation is to have technology-free zones in the home or a screen-free night.

“That includes Mom and Dad too,” Balkam said, adding that when parents are on their cellphones or other devices, “kids will see you doing that. They’ll want to do the same.”

Another good habit to get into is placing iPads, laptops and cellphones in the closet at night to get them out of view. Balkam said that when visiting schools about online safety, children often tell him that they can’t get their parents’ attention because they are always on their electronic devices. When using the computer for work, to look up a recipe or to respond to an email, let your children know what you are doing if they ask.

“Keep the conversation going,” Balkam said. “Keep them aware you’re not just looking at Candy Crush.”

Choi said FOSI is on a national tour now, making stops in Louisville, Denver and other cities. He said in each city, the concerns have been a bit different, but one common thread for parents is to find out the most effective way to track their children’s cellphones. Parents also want to know some of the dangerous phone apps to look out for.

While Balkam will lead next week’s forum, Choi said parents and children in attendance will be able to ask questions during a question-and-answer segment.

“It’s what the parents want to bring up,” Choi said.

During the forum, Choi will share several online safety products that are available through the wireless phone company. One such tool is the Verizon GizmoWatch. The smartwatch, which works like a cellphone, allows parents to set on-screen notifications and up to 10 trusted contacts for their children to call. The GizmoWatch has automated alerts, a GPS locator and two-way voice calls and messaging.

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