ast year, Myriam Martinez' fifthgrade daughter requested a Facebook account.
Martinez, of Brighton, had no
idea how Facebook worked. What
was a "Wall," and what exactly did
it really mean to be someone's friend? How
much control did a person have over privacy?
She wasn't sure, so she set up her own
Once she had navigated through the
privacy settings and gotten a feel for the
Facebook culture, she let her daughter use
Facebook through the account she had set
up and under close supervision. Her
daughter keeps telling her "everyone"
at school has an account, but Martinez and her husband stand firm
that none of their three daughters have their own account.
"I don't know what that
means, 'everyone,' but I
know that she wants to
friend a lot of people who
have Facebook accounts,"
Experts cue parents on
how to monitor their
children's Facebook
and texting
says Martinez, who is sur-
prised that so many middle-schoolers
have access.
These days - with Facebook, Twitter, texting,
blogs, YouTube, streaming
television shows and websites with inappropriate
content galore - it can
seem like cell phones and
the Internet are assaulting
families from all sides. But
the worst thing a parent
can do is retreat, says Ed
Suk, executive director of
the New York branch of
.the Center for Missing &
Exploited Children.
"It's a very complicated
and challenging world of
technology that we're living in
right now, and sometimes the
best advice for parents is to go
back to the basics," Sui<says.
"Talk to your kids, set clear
guidelines and make sure they
have the ability to come to you
When tney're experiencmg's-
thing inappropriate:'
It's never too early to start
addressing Internet safety issues
with your children, Sui<says. And
it's never too late, either - even
though teenagers may be "light
years" ahead of their parents in
terms of Internet know-how, and it
can feel overwhelming to
delve into their world.
The good news: There
are plenty of resources to
help parents navigate the
ever-changing, complex
Internet landscape. One
reSOurce is NetSmartz, an
online cyber-safety work.hop dcvclopcd by thc
National Center for
Missing & Exploited
Children for parents, teens, chilo
dren and educators. NetSmartz
cluding name, school,
city, address, phone number and photographs, can
The Rochester School District has a longbe made public to anyone
standing partnership with the National Center for
on the Internet. It all
Missing & Exploited Children. About seven years
depends on the user's
ago, the district began incorporating Internet
privacy settings.
safety into its curriculum at various grade levels,
Photographs have beusing NetSmartz to train teachers and students.
• come a particularly insidIn January, about 70 elementary teachers will
ious issue, Suk and Deattend a training on Internet safety and abducMarie say. Even innoction prevention, says Sandra Pawlak, health eduuous photos can pose a
cation project coordinator for RCSD.
problem if privacy setOne way the district has sought to reach stutings aren't strict enough.
dents more effectively is through the National
There is also an inCenter's Peer Training Program. Each year, health
creasing number of ways
teachers select about 120 students districtwide
for Facebook users and
to get trained in cyber safety issues, including
others to disclose their
the dangers of cyberbullying and the risks to
exact location at any
privacy online. These students take what they've
given time. Facebook
learned back to the schools and co-teach the
recently came out with
topics in class.
the "Places" feature, al"When students hear the message from the
lowing users to publicize
students, it's often more personal for
where they are (in the
them," she says. "Instead of being told by an
real world) using their
adult, they're told by their peers. Our job is to
smart phone. Cameras
make sure they're getting the message in as
and cell phones with
many different ways as possible," other area
built-in GPS capabilities
including Webster and Greece, use
can imprint GPS coorNetSmartz to train teachers and students as well.
dinates on a photograph
that has been mobileuploaded.
And, of course, there
sion, DeMarle says. Even such an ugly dress toare chat rooms, where
older teens should have
day?" (or something
children and teens can
to "friend" their parent
much worse). The hard
talk to people they do not on Facebook (and yes,
part is, there's no name
you should be on the site, attached to the insult.
with your own account,
Cyberbullying can also
How can I monitor
, monitoring what you can happen on blogs, through
my child?
see and keeping up-toInstant Messenger or
Parents should have
date on new developGoogle Chat, or other
complete access to their
websites - basically any
child's Facebook page, at
Parents should also
place on the Internet
least during the tween
consider having the fam- where it's possible to
and early teenage years,
ily computer in a compost comments or send
DeMarle says.
mon area, check histories messages.
One way to monitor
of all computers regularly
Facebook use and set
and consider blocking or What should I do if it
happens to my child?
ground rules is by writmonitoring software.
ing up a contract with
If you think something
What is cyberbullying?
your child before you
is going on, start by findallow him or her to open
Cyberbullying can take ing out exactly what hapan account, and say that
many forms, but DeMarle pened. Have your child
you will revisit the consays it usually happens
call up the posts in questract each year, DeMarie
these days through Face- tion and review them,
book or through a popand ask your child to tell
UContracts are easier to ular website called
you his or her version of
enforce because there's
Formspring.me. With
events. Keep in mind that
no ambiguity," he says. "It Formspring, users have
the line between bullies
becomes kind of the third an account and can ask
and victims often gets
party. You can always
. questions of friends,
blurred, with victims
argue with your parents,
including anonymous
turning into bullies and
but it's hard to argue
questions. So if a teen
vice versa at a rapid pace,
against written words,"
wants to pick on a classDeMarle says.
The point at which a
mate, he or she can mesIn the moment, you
teenager can have a sesage the classmate anonshould tell your child not
cret password depends
ymously or post anonyto engage with the bully.
on a lot of factors and
mously to that person's
The bullied teen should
should be a'family.decipage:~'Why did you wear- ignore mean-spirited
School training
has a "definitions" page
that highlights common
Internet terms for parents still learning the
lingo; it also has a sister
site, NetSmartz4ll.org,
that allows you to '~sk an
Expert" if you have a
specific question.
The best way to handle
Internet and cell phone
issues is to make them
part of an ongoing con- versation with your child,
"the same way we have
ongoing conversations
about lots of things we
value as families," says
Dan DeMarle, a local
education specialist who
includes links to cyber
safety resources at
"Parents need to protect their kids, and they
can't protect them unless
they know what they're
doing," DeMarle says.
We posed some common questions to the
What types of things
should I be concerned
If your child has an
account on a social networking site, such as
Facebook or MySpace, he
or she can share information freely with people
who are friends - or not.
Oftentimes, children and
teens are Facebook
"friends" with people
who they don't know
very well, if at all. And .
some information, in-
emocratandChronicle.com. DEMOCRATAND CHRONICLE
"1 think schools are struggling
with where the boundaries are
What are the civil rights
of kids within school districts,
and what are the boundaries?"
Ed Suk, executive director of the New York branch of
the Center for Missing & Exploited Children
messages, delete offensive comments, and even
consider suspending his
or her Facebook account
until things have settled
down, DeMarie says.
Help your child think
through ways of solving
the problem on her own.
If the issue involves
children from the same
school and it's spilling
over into school time,
inform the school, DeMarie says. But don't
expect a uniform response: Some schools are
very proactive with cyberbullyingissues,and
some won't touch them.
This is a problem
throughout New York
state, Suk says.
"I think schools are
struggling with where the
boundaries are," Suk says.
"What are the civil rights
of kids within school
districts, and what are
the boundaries? What are
appropriate and inappropriate actions for schools
to take?" (This spring, the
National Center for Missing & Exploited Children
is sponsoring a conference on this very topic.)
If a conflict has escalated to a serious level
among children who do
not go to the same school,
or the school isn't getting
involved, you may need
to contact the parents of
the other kids, DeMarle
says. If any of the cyberbullying rises to criminal
levels, for example another teen posting nude
pictures of your child on
Facebook, then you
should call the police.
On the preventive side
of things, Myriam Martinez has explained to her
young daughters that
'riendships online-should
be treated like face-toface friendships in some
ways: Don't say anything
you wouldn't say to
someone in person, don't
say mean things, don't
post anything on someone's Wall that you
wouldn't want on your
own Wall. In other ways,
you have to be even more
careful with Facebook
than with real life.
"I tell them that when
you share something with
someone one on one, no
one else hears it," Martinez says. "But when you
post something on a
Wall, anyone can see it.
Even if it's just a joke,
you're missing the con-
text on the tnternet. You
don't get the w\J.olestory ..
You have to be really
What are the risks
with cell phones?
Teens have a tendency
to spend way too much
.time texting when they
should be doing other
things, like paying attention in class, doing homework or sleeping, DeMarIe said. "Sexting" has
gained popularity and the
danger is that more kids
feel comfortable taking
nude pictures of themselves and others, and
disseminating them via
text (or posting them to
Facebook). Too much cell
phone time can cause a
child to do poorly in
school or feel overtired
from lack of sleep.
Parents should treat a
cell phone just like a
computer and have the
pass code and set the
rules. 0
Veale is a freelance
writer. in Rochester.