Know what’s ‘app’ening in your child’s online life

By: Cari DeLamielleure-Scott, Elizabeth Scussel | C&G Newspapers | Published March 9, 2015

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BLOOMFIELD HILLS/WEST BLOOMFIELD — During an era of status updates, “self-destructing” photos, technology and tweets, experts are warning parents to educate themselves on advancements in smartphone and tablet apps.

“Social media is a pitfall for our children,” said West Bloomfield Lt. Curt Lawson, adding that many times, parents aren’t even familiar with the apps their children have downloaded, or parents think an app is merely what it appears to be.

“And in this day and age, there are a variety of social media avenues that children are using, and the apps are “a great platform to target children.”

Police issued the following safety tips for parents in regard to kids using social media:

• Check privacy settings and establish ground rules.

• Know what applications have been downloaded or could be downloaded to a device.

• Properly monitor what kids are doing and limit the number of apps that can be downloaded.

• Station the computer in a central location of the house.

• Become familiar with popular apps.

Experts recommend that parents use the website www.socialsafetypatrol.com, which was created by Lt. Aaron Yarnell in the special investigations unit of the Knox County Sheriff’s Office in Knoxville, Tennessee. Yarnell reviews apps and assigns a threat level to each app. If an app has not been reviewed, parents can email him to request it.


Social media in the schools
“In Oakland County, each district has its own policies on site blocking and cellphone usage in classrooms,” said Jean MacLeod, social media specialist for Oakland Schools, explaining that a new initiative, Bring Your Own Device, is left up to individual teachers in some districts.

BYOD is gaining popularity in many districts as a way of increasing access to vital technology without the costly burden of purchasing a device for each student. It acknowledges the reality that many students have ready access to educationally valuable technology that, until recently, they were forced to turn off when they entered the school building.

MacLeod explained that many schools utilize social media websites, such as Moodle, Skype and Twitter, as a means for teachers to collaborate with students.

“Savvy educators recognize that social media tools can provide an additional path to reach, teach and engage students,” she said. “(Social media is) now part of our culture; I think that adults could do a better job of providing guidelines for social media use and Internet behavior, as smartphones are basically micro-computers that connect our kids to the world.”

MacLeod doesn’t think students always grasp the enormous personal responsibility that comes with being a cyber-citizen.

“Social media will morph, but it’s not going away; the better question is, what can we do to help our kids safely and effectively traverse their social world?” she said.

Shira Good, director of communications for Bloomfield Hills Schools, agreed that social media needs to be embraced by parents, guardians and educators.

“We’re trying to adapt as quickly as possible to the changing world of technology,” Good said. “When you teach about the Revolutionary War, the facts don’t change. You might change your delivery method, but the facts themselves don’t change. The same isn’t true with social media. Tools and norms are evolving constantly, and we have to try to remain the ‘experts’ on something that the kids understand far better than we do.”

Good said keeping up can be challenging, but it’s necessary.

“It helps when classes have a Twitter account (especially at the lower grade levels) because they get the concept and understand the ‘rules’ before launching their own personal account,” she said. “We’re all learning and growing together, and it’s a new challenge to live electronically and yet maintain our in-person connections and relationships. There’s a daily balance, and our students have to learn how to strike that balance.

“Social media demands an insane instant connection that isn’t reasonable for the teenage brain to process. Studies have shown that the part of the brain that makes those decisions isn’t fully formed, and quick decision-making isn’t at peak performance at that age.

“Yet, in their hands, every day, they have a device and tools that demand an instant reaction from them. Texting is instant, and Tweeting is fast and furious. It’s easy for something to be said too quickly,” Good said, explaining that when a teenager orally says something they didn’t mean to say, they can “take it back.”

“However, there’s no real way to take back a Tweet, a text, a Snapchat or anything. With other users taking screen shots and often re-sharing material, their words and actions are out there in a very public way, often long before the real brain processing has time to catch up. And it’s not their ‘fault’ — it’s the normal progression of human brain development and a quickly evolving communication tool — a bad combination.”

Good assured parents that although it may be tough, they can handle the process of addressing the topic with their kids.

“There are a few basic concepts to know about every device and app their child will use,” Good said, suggesting that parents monitor their child’s use of the device and apps and know all passwords and login information, as well as check all privacy settings. “(Also,) know who your child’s friends are.  Did they meet them in class, or did they meet them online? This is a very important distinction and something to talk with your child about,” she said. “Friendships that form online are very different than those that form at the cafeteria table. It’s important to treat them differently. However, regardless of where the relationship started, it’s important to treat everyone with respect.”

For more information and tips from Jean MacLeod, visit www.jeanmacleod.com. For a list of apps and their threat levels, visit www.socialsafetypatrol.com.

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