Is Your Kid Breaking Internet Safety Rules at School?

Is Your Kid Breaking Internet Safety Rules at School?

By Tara Swords

Back in the day, my biggest distractions in class were note-passing and idle doodling. But today, 66 percent of kids ages 8 to 18 use cell phones, and 76 percent have iPods or other MP3 players, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. On top of that, most schools offer some amount of Internet access. That’s why almost all schools today require kids and parents to sign a document that didn’t even exist for our generation: Internet Acceptable Use Policy.

The Internet Acceptable Use Policy explains the school’s philosophy on Internet use and the rules regarding online behavior. It also gives an overview of the consequences of violation and a list of students’ and staff members’ rights. An Acceptable Use Policy should both recognize students’ right to benefit from technology and protect them from harm.

Parents are an important part, says Doris Stephen, education programs assistant in the Education Technology Office of the California Department of Education:

“They need to know what their children are being taught in school and how they are going to use the Internet. They need to know that the children are doing it in a safe manner.”

Here’s what to do if your child’s school district doesn’t require your signature, or if you’re a little hazy about what you signed at the beginning of the year.

1. Get a copy of the policy.
Check the school’s website. Many schools post their Acceptable Use Policies online so parents and kids can easily reference them. If it’s not there, call the school and request a copy or ask your child to bring one home.

2. Discuss it.

Talk about the policy. Discuss scenarios that might seem innocuous but are actually prohibited. For example, does your child’s school prohibit using Internet resources to lobby for a political candidate? Can kids visit file-sharing sites and download music? Are there any penalties for using profanity in email sent via the school’s computers? Help your child read between the lines too: If the policy prohibits harassment, ask, “What constitutes harassment?” Talk about your child’s typical Internet use at home and ask whether these things are prohibited at school.

Most important, discuss the consequences of violating the policy. Most policies include penalties that range from warnings and account suspension to expulsion and legal action.

3. Be respectful.
Because Acceptable Use Policies include a lot of language about what not to do, they can seem to imply that kids aren’t to be trusted. But a good policy is centered on the educational value of the Internet and keeps free speech in mind. So don’t just discuss the things your child shouldn’t do; talk about all the useful ways they can use the school’s technology to get more out of class.

4. Post it somewhere accessible.
Whether it’s on the fridge or saved as a shared document in your Google Docs accounts, keep the policy on hand. If it’s top of mind, your child may be more likely to follow it and avoid getting into trouble that could affect his -- or someone else’s -- future.

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Tara Swords is a consumer and technology writer whose articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, Inc. and other national publications.