Iowa City class offers info on keeping kids safe online

Mary Hintermeister knew she needed to talk with her kids about safe use of technology when her 8-year-old daughter gave out Hintermeister’s phone number to a friend, who proceeded to call and text 20 times a day.

“My tech has gotten away from me,” said Hintermeister, of Lone Tree.

The home-schooling mom of children ages 11, 8 and 5 asked Iowa City Public Library staff to provide an online safety seminar, which they did last week.

Librarian Morgan Reeves showed kids some fun online safety apps, such as one showing how easy it is to crack online password that are too easy. Parents talked about the serious stuff, including cyberbullying, sexting, oversharing of personal information and sexual solicitation online.

“You want to raise up children who can navigate the internet the same way they can navigate the real world,” said Jen Eilers, who teaches technology classes at the library.

Eilers encouraged parents to talk with their kids before they become teenagers, set rules for online use and interact with children online to know what they’re doing and spur safe, fun use. Conversation starters could be “What interests you about the internet?,” or “Who do you like to interact with online?”

Telling kids about online dangers and how to deal with them is important, Eilers said.

“You want to coach them what they should do if they come across this content,” she said. For example, if a pornographic image pops up on the screen, some children may feel comfortable clicking the back arrow, while others may want to close the screen immediately and go tell Mom and Dad.

Tweens and teens also should understand the consequences of inappropriate use of technology.

Sending nude photos, even of yourself, is sexting and can result in criminal charges. Kids may think using an app like Snapchat, which puts a time limit on photos and video before erasing the images, is safer, but that backfires if users take screenshots of the images and share them, Eilers said.

Cyberbullying, which could include anything from online threats to posting unflattering photos to hurt someone’s feelings, is particularly hard for kids to escape because hand-held technology follows them home at night. Eilers recommends parents offer their child who has been bullied several courses of action, including the parent calling the other child’s parents, going to the principal or asking the guidance counselor to mediate a discussion between the students.

Free and for-pay software can help parents set up filters and monitoring tools for online devices, Eiler said. Some programs let parents set time limits or disable devices at night.

But Eilers thinks one of the best tools is a technology usage contract drawn up between parents and children that establishes screen time limits, out-of-bound sites, appropriate locations for internet use and what behavior parents expect. “Help your children become good digital citizens,” she said.

HELPFUL SITES FOR ONLINE SAFETY

NetLingo.com: Provides a list of acronyms and text message shorthand to let you know what kids might be saying in texts and chats

GetNetWise.org: Collects news stories, research and updates about technology

Commonsensemedia.org: Nonprofit organization that provides library of independent, age-based and education rating and reviews for movies, games, apps, TV shows, websites and more

Netsmartz.org: Program created by National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that teachers children ages 5-17 to make better choices onlne

Staysafeonline.org: Guidance from National Cyber Security Alliance on interacting safely online

Source: List compiled by the Iowa City Public Library

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