How can I influence my child's use of the internet at school and at the homes of peers?
Parents can attempt to monitor Internet use at home, but what protection is there at school? You need to know if the school has any policies and practices when it comes to student Internet use.
The first thing you need to do is take time to really read the permission slips your children bring home. You'll want to look for
- what areas of the Internet students can use (e.g. www, e-mail, instant messaging, chat, file-sharing programs).
- do the computers have filters?
- do children have an e-mail account with the school, either through the school itself or using a web-based, e-mail account?
- does the school allow access to chatrooms? If so, for what purpose? Who are the participants in these chatrooms? Other students? From where?
Permission slips will likely address school web sites and how children's personal identification is protected there. Pay close attention to how the school maintains or makes public any information regarding your child.
- does the school maintain a web site the public can access on the world wide web, or do they have a closed Intranet site?
- what type of personal information is posted about children, if any, on this site?
- are there any pictures or personal information posted about children? If so, how are they identified?
Some school districts, Baltimore County being one, ask parents' permission to put a photograph or video of students on the web. Students only appear in groups and only the group is named. For example "Ms. Smith's English class."1 This may prevent predators from using the school web page to identify a child.
Monitoring Children's Online Activity
A good acceptable use policy will allow children to send e-mail only from their school account and with the passwords provided by the school. Children will be forbidden to install software on school computers, and they will be instructed to keep private any personal information such as name, address, and password.
- Who monitors where the children go online at school? How is "monitoring" defined? Does this mean a teacher is physically in the room and keeps an eye on children while they go online, or are teachers able to check web caches and view children's online school accounts?
- Do children have the ability to download programs or files to the school's computer system?
- Do children have any expectation of privacy when using the computers at school? Is this explicitly stated anywhere similar to ones regarding lockers being the property of the school and as such can be searched at anytime by school personnel?
- Sometimes children can use school library computers — often completely unsupervised — during lunch or other breaks. Is this the case at your child's school?
Communicating with the school about your child's access to the Internet will help you know the safety measures that are in place. Taking a little time to read permission slips carefully or call the school can make a big difference in your child's safety.
1Baltimore County Public Schools' Handbooks and Policies. Accessed June 6, 2003, http://www.bcps.org/system/policies/telecom/forms/photopermission.pdf.
Anne Jacobs is a freelance journalist for the Parents & Educators component of the NetSmartz Workshop™ at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children™.
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