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Internet Safety - Junior High

Internet Safety Tips for Middle School Kids Help your middle-schooler

In the middle school years, teens begin social networking, creating and uploading comments (blogs, videos, pictures), downloading music and other files, researching subjects for school, chatting on IM, video-chatting, and more. In short, middle schoolers are leadingdigital lives.

At this age, the Internet is no longer a solitary or passive experience. For preteens and teens, the Internet is social. Teens are using the Internet to express themselves and to experiment anonymously with different identities. While the desire to strike out on their own is age-appropriate, these kids still need parental guidance (sometimes from a respectful distance) on how to conduct themselves safely online.

Why Internet safety matters

Young teens don’t yet have an “off” switch in their brains. That means that they often act impulsively. This lack of impulse control combined with online anonymity could lead middle schoolers toward dangerous behaviors: cyberbullying, inappropriate photo or video uploads, illegal downloads, meeting strangers -- even cheating. Because socializing is so important to young people, online interactions can become pretty intense -- whether they’re playing games, chatting with friends, or sharing work.

Teens are creating a digital footprint that can last a long time in cyberspace. Things they post can be forwarded by others and viewed by vast anonymous audiences. If you teach them to self-reflect before they self-reveal, their online experiences are more likely to be safe.

The first step to keeping your preteens and teens safe on the Internet is to find out what they’re doing online to make sure they’re behaving respectfully and responsibly. Talk to them about what’s appropriate to say to others, what kind of content is okay to upload and download, and what kinds of interactions are important to avoid. Helping your children become responsible digital citizens is what will ultimately keep them safe online.

Internet safety basics

  • Never share names, schools, ages, phone numbers, or addresses.
  • Never open an email from a stranger – it may contain viruses that can harm a computer.
  • Never send pictures to strangers or view pictures that strangers send to them.
  • Keep passwords private (except to parents).
  • Tell a trusted adult if something mean or creepy happens on the Internet.

Strategies for responsible -- and safer -- online life

  • Visit age-appropriate sites. Find sites that promote learning, creativity, and that deepen your kids’ interests. Also check out popular Web sites before your kids visit them. Despite what your kids might tell you, social networks like MySpace or Facebook are not meant for middle schoolers.
  • Minimize chatting with strangers. Tell your kids that people aren’t always who they say they are on the Internet. Anyone can pose as a “buddy of a buddy.” If kids are playing online games with people they don’t personally know, they should be careful not to disclose anything personal.
  • Help kids think critically about what they find online. Young people need to know not everything they see is true. You may wish to use safe-search settings or filtering software for younger kids. And you can always check browser histories to see where your kids have been.
  • If they wouldn’t do it in real life, they shouldn’t do it online. Remind them: Don’t say mean things, and don’t cheat in games or at school.
  • Have some rules about time and place. Set limits on the amount of time your kids spend online. Don’t let them Instant Message (IM) while doing homework. Restrict time and sites for online gaming.
  • Agree on downloads. What music is okay? Which video sites? Don’t just hand out your credit card information to your kids. If they need to buy something, you should be involved.
  • Talk about privacy. Remind your kids that when they post something online, they lose control of it. It can be cut and pasted and sent around the Web. Show kids where privacy settings are on their favorite sites and help them think about the settings they should use.
  • Make sure kids feel safe reporting bad behavior. It doesn’t have to be you, but if anything suspicious, mean, or scary happens, they need to know they won’t get in trouble if they tell a trusted adult.
  • Be involved and view your own habits carefully. Parents are their role models for safe and smart use. Enjoy the good stuff together!
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Doctors To Parents: Limit Kids' Texts, Tweets, Online

By:  Lindsay Tanner

The recommendations are bound to prompt eye-rolling and LOLs from many teens but an influential pediatricians group says parents need to know that unrestricted media use can have serious consequences.

It's been linked with violence, cyberbullying, school woes, obesity, lack of sleep and a host of other problems. It's not a major cause of these troubles, but "many parents are clueless" about the profound impact media exposure can have on their children, said Dr. Victor Strasburger, lead author of the new American Academy of Pediatrics policy

"This is the 21st century and they need to get with it," said Strasburger, a University of New Mexico adolescent medicine specialist.

The policy is aimed at all kids, including those who use smartphones, computers and other Internet-connected devices. It expands the academy's longstanding recommendations on banning televisions from children's and teens' bedrooms and limiting entertainment screen time to no more than two hours daily.

Under the new policy, those two hours include using the Internet for entertainment, including Facebook, Twitter, TV and movies; online homework is an exception.

The policy statement cites a 2010 report that found U.S. children aged 8 to 18 spend an average of more than seven hours daily using some kind of entertainment media. Many kids now watch TV online and many send text messages from their bedrooms after "lights out," including sexually explicit images by cellphone or Internet, yet few parents set rules about media use, the policy says.

"I guarantee you that if you have a 14-year-old boy and he has an Internet connection in his bedroom, he is looking at pornography," Strasburger said.

The policy notes that three-quarters of kids aged 12 to 17 own cellphones; nearly all teens send text messages, and many younger kids have phones giving them online access.

"Young people now spend more time with media than they do in school — it is the leading activity for children and teenagers other than sleeping" the policy says.

Mark Risinger, 16, of Glenview, Ill., is allowed to use his smartphone and laptop in his room, and says he spends about four hours daily on the Internet doing homework, using Facebook and YouTube and watching movies.

He said a two-hour Internet time limit "would be catastrophic" and that kids won't follow the advice, "they'll just find a way to get around it."

Strasburger said he realizes many kids will scoff at advice from pediatricians — or any adults.

"After all, they're the experts! We're media-Neanderthals to them," he said. But he said he hopes it will lead to more limits from parents and schools, and more government research on the effects of media.

The policy was published online Monday in the journal Pediatrics. It comes two weeks after police arrested two Florida girls accused of bullying a classmate who committed suicide. Police say one of the girls recently boasted online about the bullying and the local sheriff questioned why the suspects' parents hadn't restricted their Internet use.

Mark's mom, Amy Risinger, said she agrees with restricting kids' time on social media but that deciding on other media limits should be up to parents.

"I think some children have a greater maturity level and you don't need to be quite as strict with them," said Risinger, who runs a communications consulting firm.

Her 12-year-old has sneaked a laptop into bed a few times and ended up groggy in the morning, "so that's why the rules are now in place, that that device needs to be in mom and dad's room before he goes to bed."

Sara Gorr, a San Francisco sales director and mother of girls, ages 13 and 15, said she welcomes the academy's recommendations.

Her girls weren't allowed to watch the family's lone TV until a few years ago. The younger one has a tablet, and the older one has a computer and smartphone, and they're told not to use them after 9 p.m.

"There needs to be more awareness," Gorr said. "Kids are getting way too much computer time. It's bad for their socialization, it's overstimulating, it's numbing them."