Digital Safety

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Protecting Your Young Gamers

According to a recent New York Times investigation, sexual predators have found an easy access point into the lives of young people: They are meeting them online through multiplayer video games and chat apps, making virtual connections right in their victims’ homes. Many of the interactions lead to crimes of “sextortion,” in which children are coerced into sending explicit imagery of themselves.

What can parents do to prevent those kinds of contacts and exchanges? Experts say that first and foremost, parents need to spend time with kids on new apps and games so that they learn the features and can set realistic rules for when and how children can interact with others online. Showing an interest in what games your kids play also builds trust that they will be able to have honest conversations about issues they may run into down the line. As kids’ online lives begin to expand, parents should also educate their children on how to block other users who make them uncomfortable. Lastly, experts warn that parents must remember that they are ultimately responsible for being their child’s online protector.

Screen Time Studies Remain Inconclusive

Research remains inconclusive on whether all screen time - and in all quantities - is harmful to children. Nick Allen, director of the Center for Digital Mental Health at the University of Oregon, points out that digital technology actually has "significant benefits, " such as connecting people of like interests and outlooks.

For parents struggling with how much screen time is OK for their children, try asking your kids: ‘What are you doing on there? What makes you feel good? What makes you feel bad?’ ” says Michaeline Jensen, of the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. She was an author of a study in August that showed on days when teenagers use more technology, they were no more likely to report problems like depressive symptoms or inattention than on days when they used less. The study concludes, “Findings from this EMA study do not support the narrative that young adolescents’ digital technology usage is associated with elevated mental-health symptoms.”

Should Schools Use Facial Recognition Technology?

The use of facial recognition technology continues to grow in K-12 schools despite research suggesting the software may be inaccurate as much as 35% of the time when scanning female faces with darker skin. School leaders say the technology improves security by alerting officials to potential threats more quickly, but these findings raise definite concerns about inequality and social stigmatization.

Watch Out for Virtual Drive-Bys

The FBI is warning that unsecured smart digital devices, such as refrigerators and baby monitors, can be used by hackers "to do a virtual drive-by of your digital life." Homeowners should consider running separate networks for smart TVs and smart home appliances ,while keeping devices that store sensitive personal information, such as a laptop, on another network.

Study: Screen Time Jumps After First Birthday

Research indicates that once children celebrate their first birthday the time they spend in front of a digital screen increases exponentially. Average screen time increased from 52 minutes at age 12 months to over 150 minutes at age 3 years, with the greatest screen times at elementary-school age found among those in home-based child care and those born to first-time mothers, researchers reported in JAMA Pediatrics. Another study in the same journal showed that more than 79% and about 95% of Canadian youths ages 2 and 3, respectively, exceeded the one hour daily exposure to high-quality programming recommended by the World Health Organization.

Some Schools Are Using AI To Grade Student’s Work – What You Should Know

Did you know that some schools are using artificial intelligence to grade student essays? An article in Vox reports that schools across the country are using algorithms to grade essays by making predictions about how a teacher would grade them. Experts say, however, that the technology can get those predictions wrong and it's possible a particular data set could be biased about certain speech and language patterns. One of the other flaws that is noted is that the grading system rewards those who use big words, yet easily be fooled by nonsensical gibberish of sophisticated words strung together.

Survey Says Kids Ask Internet Questions Before Parents

Children are more likely to look for answers to their questions online than to ask their parents, Lenovo reports following their survey of 15,226 people from 10 countries. The survey found that many parents look online to help their children with homework assignments, most often in math, and that 83% of parents generally believe advances in technology are helping their students do better in school. Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) reported that they trust technology to help young people to become "more independent learners and problem solvers," although American parents were least likely of all the groups to believe this.

YouTube Ads Targeting Children Coming to an End

YouTube is reportedly wrapping up its plans to curtail targeted ads for videos directed at children in the wake of a Federal Trade Commission investigation into whether the platform violated the Children's Online Privacy Act. It is, however, unclear how YouTube will define videos "directed at children" and how it would enforce the ban. Up until now YouTube has gotten around ad restrictions by arguing that YouTube, the primary site, is not for children (the company says kids should use YouTube Kids app, which does not use targeted ads). Still, nursery rhymes and cartoon videos on the main site have billions of views. The platform’s many issues with children’s content-–horrific imagery, harassing comments-- have troubled its video creators, worried parents and empowered rivals. Getting rid of targeted ads on children’s content could hit Google’s bottom line–but this solution would be far less expensive than other potential remedies that aim to placate regulators.

New Digital Safety Materials Released

Recently, Common Sense Education, which focuses on teaching students to critically analyze what they see and how they interact online as they navigate that space, released a new curriculum that includes lessons on media literacy. The curriculum is for Kindergarten to 12th grade classrooms and is free to parents, educators and schools. 

Flaw in “Messenger Kids” Fixed By Facebook

Facebook has notified parents and corrected a technical error that permitted thousands of children using the Messenger Kids app to join group chats not approved by their parents. The app lets children between 6 and 12 years old message and video chat with family and friends who their parents approve. It's unclear how long the flaw existed. The app has been controversial since its launch in December 2017, and child advocacy groups have repeatedly urged Facebook to shut down the app, arguing it violates a federal law aimed at protecting a child's online privacy.