Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Have kids online? Keep them safe!

Teen angel panel

On May 27 Sarah and I attended the Wired Kids Summit in Washington DC. This was not the first meeting on Cybersafety that I attended, and with Sarah’s “run-in” with cyber bullying I knew she too would want to see what this was all about. The meeting was primarily a summit of Parry Aftab’s Teen angels to gather and talk to cyber companies and share their experiences i.e. facebook, Google, MySpace, Xbox, MTV, Disney, Nickelodeon etc.

Teen angels are a group of thirteen to eighteen year old volunteers that have been specially trained in all aspects of online safety, privacy and security. After completion of the required training, the Teen angels run unique programs in schools to spread the word about responsible and safe surfing to other teens and younger kids, parents, and teachers.

Parry and Teen Angel demonstrating the "Stop, Block and Tell"

Teen angels was founded in 1999 by leading cyberlawyer Parry Aftab, Executive Director of WiredSafety.org - the world's largest online safety and help organization and 501(c)(3) corporation. Parry personally trains most of the Teen angels!

Parry Aftab is an Internet privacy and security lawyer. She also writes books and articles and was one of the first experts to focus on Internet safety and kids online. The Teen angels were born as a result of a TV special Parry did in April 1999with ABC News, in New Jersey. The special was about teen girl safety and Parry was asked to be the Internet safety guru for the special. Part of the special involved Parry speaking to teenage girls at a school in New Jersey. When the computer connection predictably broke down, the girls just lined up at microphones and fired off questions and that was the birth of wiredsafety.*

At the summit there were several panel discussions with the teens, the companies, and with the audience. I had invited several mom bloggers to attend and other moms who are active in their schools so that they could learn from this and hopefully take back some ideas for starting a curriculum on the importance of internet safety and cyberbullying.

Parry and Cyber Company Panel

At my last meeting I was blown away by the corporations that were showing support for this important venue. Two companies stood out big time to me and they were Build a Bear which is a store for younger children and teens who has devoted an entire section of their website to cybersafety and MTV who began a thin line campaign aimed at stopping the spread of abuse in the form of sexting, cyberbullying and digital dating abuse.

psa courtesy of "A Thin Line"

I’m still not sure what facebook is doing to promote internet safety as well as gaming companies such as XBox. Facebook does have a place to report bullying but after my daughters experience I’m still a bit skeptical. A friend of mine who has 3 boys who came with me raised the question as to why should there be “chat” buttons on games such as scrabble where total strangers can hop on and start chatting with your child or you. She told me she finds this entirely too creepy and I have to agree.

But the bottom line is parents need to be aware of what your kids are doing, which in this day and age where 50% of the population is of divorced families and have two working parents is very hard to enforce. We really need to get back to basics of really speaking to our kids and keeping the lines of communications open so that “if” they encounter any type of “bullying” or “weirdness” on the computer they can follow along what they Teen/Twee angels preach which is “stop, block, and tell a parent.”

Keeping our kids safe has gone from our backyards into cyberspace and we really need to be wise.

Some tips from Parry*:
Keeping your kids safe on social media
Protect your privacy on facebook
What you need to know about youtube

*Information of teen angels and Perry Aftab from teenangels.org website and wiredsafety.org
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