Back-to-School and Internet Safety

August 19, 2011

The phrase back-to-school conjures up thoughts of trying on clothes to see what fits and what doesn’t, and purchasing the notebooks, pens, and other paraphernalia your student needs for the year ahead.

However, new to most parents is the realization that an Internet safety checkup also falls into this seasonal rhythm.

The beginning of school is an excellent time to review your current Internet safety guidelines and see if they are still a good fit for your family and your child. It may be time to expand online privileges and reinforce the added responsibilities and expectations that come with age and with any new devices your child may be using.

Here is a checklist for this change of season:

  1. Begin by reviewing your student’s current privileges and responsibilities. Ideally, kids should take on new privileges and responsibilities each year so they can learn to become more responsible, and eventually grow into independent adults. Is it time to increase the level of access you provide to them?
  2. Reinforce the basics. Internet Safety has four basic principles – protect yourself, respect the safety of others, be kind, and act responsibly by following family rules and the terms and conditions set by services.
  3. Address new areas of potential risk – For example, if your child is starting to use social networking, it’s time to have a discussion about which service to use, what information he or she should share, what privacy settings should be in place, and so on.
  4. Review your school’s Internet usage guidelines. Permission slips for using the Internet in school are sent home during the first week of school. These require parents and students to agree to the school’s guidelines and they provide another great opportunity to address acceptable online usage and actions.
  5. Talk to each child, tween, and teen every year about Cyberbullying. Cyberbullying, online harassment, and cyber stalking are all terms for ways in which those who wish to hurt others, for whatever reason, use online tools to do so. This form of bullying is incredibly damaging both to those who are victims, and to the bullies themselves. It is critical that you establish an environment that makes your children feel safe in coming to you to report any problems.



New FBI App Helps Parents When Kids go Missing

August 9, 2011

Remember turning around in the store and suddenly your child wasn’t there? Usually you find them within moments, but that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach reminds you that not every parent will be so lucky.  Every year thousands of children become victims of crime – whether it’s through kidnappings, violent attacks, or sexual abuse, according to the FBI’s Crimes Against Children website.

To help reduce these crimes, the FBI has just launched a new free Child ID app (currently only for iPhone users, the app will be available for other phones soon) that provides users with an easy way to electronically store photos and crucial information about your child so you can immediately provide the most important information to law enforcement should your child go missing.

When every minute counts the immediacy of access to this information is critical.  If you have to first go home to get a photo of your child, or other information, vital time is lost.

Until needed, your child’s information isn’t shared

The Child ID app stores the data locally on your phone – nowhere else – unless you decide to share it either by showing pictures and information on your phone, or by emailing the information to authorities.

In addition to providing the ability to store images and information vital to an investigation the app includes advice to help you keep your children safe and specific guidance on what to do in those first few crucial hours after a child goes missing. Law enforcement can then issue an AMBER Alert to serve as an instant call to action for everyone in the immediate area to be on the lookout for your child.

Spread the word

Fortunately, relatively few parents will ever experience the abduction of their child, but this is literally the best life insurance you can have if you are among the unlucky few. Every parent with young children should have this app installed, filled in and kept up to date.  And everyone who reads this article should spread the word to everyone they know with young children, and everyone who spends time with young children – like grandparents, babysitters, or aunts and uncles.

To echo the FBI “Put your child’s safety in your own hands. Download the FBI’s Child ID app today”.  If you don’t use iPhone, keep checking the FBI’s Crimes Against Children website to learn when your phone has this capability.


Does your Vision for Technology Match Your Child’s?

July 13, 2011

“What would you like your computer or the internet to do that it can’t do right now?” was the question posed to kids ages 12 and under in a global study conducted by international research firm Latitudeo. The results are phenomenal, and beg the question of how in touch are you with where technology can take us?

Among kids ideas were:

  1. Removing the distinction between online and offline. Children across the world imagine technologies that “seamlessly meld online and offline experiences”
  2. Shifting from seeing to interacting.  Nearly 4 in 10 kids imagine immersive experiences in physical spaces (e.g., real or simulated travel) or devices that assisted physical activities (e.g., playing sports)
  3. Ditching the keyboard and mouse. Kids want to interact with technology more intuitively. Of those kids who specified an interface, only half suggested the traditional keyboard/mouse configuration, while 20% explicitly requested verbal/auditory controls, and another 15% wanted touchscreen interfaces.
  4. Humanizing devices. 77% of kids wanted a more dynamic, human-level responsiveness (often anthropomorphized as robots or virtual companions), and 43% drew themselves or another person interacting with their creations, seeing devices as merely an extension of oneself.
  5. Better access to knowledge. Kids envisioned instant access to people, information, and possibilities. One-third of kids invented technologies that would empower users by fostering knowledge such as speaking a different language or learning how to cook.
  6. The Urge to Create.  A quarter of kids’ inventions centered on art or design, envisioning entire platforms for creating games, Web sites, action figures, and so on. Kids’ interest in a host of design fields—industrial, landscape, fashion, Web, and more—reflects the visual richness of the online world, as well as the can-do creative drive that tech encourages.

That’s pretty cool stuff coming from the minds of under-12-year-olds. Now we just have to help them achieve these dreams in an environment that is safe, secure, and protective.


Criddle Interviewed On New Internet Safety Curriculum

April 10, 2011

Port Townsend Leader’s Nicholas Johnson interviewed Linda Criddle about the development and roll-out of the LOOKBOTHWAYS Foundation’s  NetSkills4Life curriculum that will be available to the public this coming fall.  Here are excerpts from that interview Online safety made simple for schools.

Most of us – children and adults alike – browse, surf, click, search, download, upload, link and post with little thought toward protecting privacy or questioning content. The Internet remains a bit of a free-for-all where users with any and all motivations come together to share words, images and ideas, as well as goods and services. But what about those who aren’t interested in sharing, but instead, in taking, collecting?

“People don’t realize what they are sharing,” said Criddle, an expert on Internet crime and safety. “They do not realize that all those disparate things they said at different times create a very detailed map.”

In an effort to bring comprehensive, user-friendly Internet safety curriculum into the classroom, Criddle has developed a free, computer-based curriculum called NetSkills4Life through her nonprofit foundation, Look Both Ways. The curriculum is set to embark on a testing phase around May 15, and both Port Townsend and Chimacum fifth- and sixth-graders will be among the nearly 1,400 students to take part around the state.

The goal is to help students understand the risks and responsibilities of online life while actively preparing them to be safe, self-aware online citizens.

“NetSkills4Life is free and private for everyone,” Criddle said. “You don’t have to register. You don’t have to give us a ton of information. We don’t want it.”

Designed to be light, the curriculum consists of three one-hour lessons per grade level, meaning teachers can easily work them into class time or assign them as homework. Beyond that, Criddle said, the curriculum demands [no technical or safety skills] of teachers, who often feel as overwhelmed by technology as students.

The lessons are built on a game platform, making them interactive and engaging. The idea is to go beyond simple advice, and prompt the student to see potential danger, know how to confront it and then actually do it.

“We are very focused on ensuring that not only do they understand the concepts, but they master the skills they need,” Criddle said. “If you teach kids about bicycle traffic safety awareness and you never teach them how to ride a bike, they are still going to wobble in front of the car, because they don’t have the skills to ride better.”

Competitive imperative

Criddle knows the advantages of responsible online citizenship in a competitive world.  “We are not, as a culture, embracing technology and its opportunities the way we need to,” she said. “U.S. schools are far behind other schools around the world in adopting the Internet, embracing and using it. I frankly believe our competitive advantage is at risk if we do not help schools, families and individuals step up and feel confident.”

“The parent who fails to have their kid fully prepared for the Internet world when they graduate from high school has not succeeded in preparing their children for an adult life,” Criddle said.

Student Stalking or Support – Using GPS to Track Truants

March 29, 2011

Some school districts in California, Texas and Kentucky are using a GPS student tracking and mentoring program called Attendance Improvement Management (AIM).   This service has been steadily gaining schools as clients since 2005 and has made huge fans of some school administrators and judges dealing with chronic truancy cases.

The AIM program has two aspects to helping kids at risk of dropping out or with chronic truancy. The first is mentoring, and there is a body of evidence supporting the benefits of providing additional mentoring to at risk kids.

The second aspect is tracking, by providing each at risk student with a bulky cellphone sized GPS device, and this raises a red flag for me. The ramifications of tracking students’ locations should be very carefully considered before we proceed down this path.

Frankly, I side with those who believe the GPS tracking aspect of this program is an inappropriate way to address school truancy. These kids aren’t violent criminals who represent such a threat to society that a permanently affixed GPS ankle bracelet is a needed safeguard.  If this is an adequate reason for schools to track teens every movement, what’s next?

The company points to their success results and they are impressive, but what isn’t clear is how much can be attributed to the GPS element. See the sidebar about the company’s very hands-on mentoring, and I suspect this much attention from a mentor is the real driver of change. In fact, the company itself says it is the mentoring aspect that is the most important factor in success.

I question the accuracy of results on a GPS device that isn’t firmly affixed to the user. If I had been a truant teen, I’d have just left it with a friend who was at school. If I had to enter a code periodically, the friend would do that too.  If I can figure this out, truant teens are already doing it.

I also am concerned about the motivation of the schools adopting the program. I firmly believe all schools want to help kids succeed, but what came up frequently in the interviews posted on the company’s website, as well as in the company’s own results (see below) is another, very different motivator.


When money is part of an equation about whether we should track our students’ every move, we’re in very murky water.

If the AIM program did not raise school revenues, would they still find it acceptable to trample their student’s privacy by monitoring their locations?

I’m against tracking the location of students at all. But if we somehow got past that hurdle, a host of other questions arise. Who can access that data? What if it’s hacked or abused? These devices track teens location 24/7 not just during school hours – where’s the justification for that?  What if law enforcement wants the information? Or parents? Or…

Just because there is technology to help solve a problem, doesn’t mean it’s appropriate to use it. When technology tramples privacy, it’s time to ask hard questions


Take 3 Minutes to Protect children from Slavery and Sex Trafficking

November 13, 2010

An estimated 3,287 children are trafficked around the globe every single day according to the United Nations Children’s Fund, (UNICEF).

To counter this horrific practice, anti-human trafficking organizations around the country are advocating for the passage of the Child Protection Compact Act – critical legislation designed to help protect children in targeted countries from slavery and sex trafficking.

This bipartisan legislation passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously in September, and the bill was sent to the Senate floor for a vote. Though the bill was close to a vote, Congress adjourned for the elections before it came up.

On November 15, Congress will return to Washington, D.C. giving us an opportunity to pass this urgent legislation through the Senate, and the opportunity to get the bill out of committee and through the House.

Donate 3 minutes NOW to help stop the trafficking of children

You can help ensure that this vital legislation is passed by contacting your Member of Congress today to urge him/her to support the Child Protection Compact Act. Then ask your friends to do the same.

This important and innovative legislation has been endorsed by International Justice Mission, World Vision, Amnesty International USA, Freedom House, Not for Sale, the SOLD Project, Polaris, Equality Now and Sojourners.

Together we will make a difference.


Google Family Center Launched – Tools & Advice About Keeping Kids Safe Online

October 12, 2010

Google has launched an excellent new site focused specifically on increasing consumer safety online. I strongly recommend you check out their Family Safety Center site for it’s advice, but perhaps more importantly to get a clear understanding of the tools they provide consumers for managing their own, and their children’s online experience.

Well done Google.