We have been talking in a few of my schools about web filters. They never seem to be good enough. The kids seem to find ways to play games and access inappropriate content no matter how strict the filters. What can be done?
The scary answer is: nothing.
Ok, maybe not nothing at all, but the endless pursuit to block content from kids is not worth it. They will find it. Build a wall and they will find a way over it. For most kids, web blocks are reminders or challenges, not barriers.
So what are caring parents, teachers, and administrators to do?
We need to keep them from wanting to find it.
As teachers, we need to keep them engaged in interesting and challenging work so they don’t have time to futz around online. Then we need to have them log out if necessary. We need to be deliberate about what we expect for appropriate use and guide them. In short, teachers need to teach and manage the classroom, as they always have done. In most cases, the same expectations for behavior work whether they have devices or not. Need a few starters? Try these:
- When not working on classwork, please close the device or work on site x or y.
- We always communicate with respect and maturity, regardless of the setting.
- We always respect each others’ privacy and property
There might be a few more added, but that is a good place to start. It will cover 90% of the issues that arise, and gives a clear directive to refer to if there are infractions. The trick is to respond consistently with consequences and/or training when students don’t meet the expectations.
Likewise, parents need to parent. Parents need to have frequent (maybe even daily) conversations about the online behavior they expect and the consequences for not abiding those rules. Yes, it may be unpopular with kids, but that’s part of parenting. Parents can’t just spring it on them. Parents have expectations in place that focus on overall behavior, not just a list of rules about specific apps. A few starting suggestions:
- Any membership or sign-up for programs or apps need to be approved by parents, and passwords will be shared. Parents should be welcome to review usage at any time.
- We never take pictures of ourselves in ways we wouldn’t want posted on the fridge or the bulletin board at school. We respect ourselves and our bodies, whether online or in person.
- We never share personal information with people without talking to parents first, whether online or in person.
- We are honest and transparent in all interactions, whether online or in person. We never try to hide inappropriate behavior by trying to be anonymous. Doing so ruins trust and self-respect.
- We treat people with respect in all interactions, whether online or in person.
- We never bully, threaten, or curse people, whether online or in person.
Notice how most of these are about character, not specific to individual tools. Parents should reinforce these as often as they can, and assign consequences whenever there are problems. Parents need to talk with kids about what they do online, and verify their story. There are many other suggestions at commonsensemedia.org. Young people can’t always understand why there is so much limitation. It’s ok for parents to share their fears.
The moral of the story is that technology changes too fast for us to stop kids from accessing everything that is bad. Instead, we need to work as a village to keep them from wanting to. It’s tough. It takes time. There is no magic wand. It requires work. But we do it. They are worth it.