- List appropriate media guidelines for young children in your care.
- Identify possible signs of cyberbullying, contact with Internet predators, or exposure to inappropriate contact.
- Create a plan to appropriately use technology in your program and maintain a cybersafe environment.
The Internet and technology have become a major part of our daily lives. They have broadened our ability to communicate with others. These tools also help us educate children in more creative ways than many of us could have ever imagined. The children in your care have grown up with technology, and for many of them, it is fully integrated into their lifestyles. Some children in your program may even carry the Internet with them on their portable devices.
Technology encompasses many things—television, video games, computers, tablets, cell phones. In family child care settings, where providers often care for a wide age range of children, deciding on what technology is appropriate for which children--and when--can be challenging. Here is some guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP):
- Children younger than 18 months are encouraged to avoid screen media other than video-chatting with loved ones.
- No solo media use under age 2. Creative, unplugged playtime is best. When screens are used, providers are advised to engage with the media along the children to help communicate what they are seeing. For example, “Look, Barney is happy now. He is singing a song with friends.”
- For older children, AAP recommends limiting entertainment media to no more than one to two hours per day and to content that is high-quality (for example, content that is educational, nonviolent, and age appropriate). School-age children, however, may use a computer or Internet device for a longer period of time for educational purposes (e.g., if they are working on a specific project or homework assignment).
- Media use during meal time is discouraged, as this has been associated with childhood obesity. Meal time is a good time to have conversations and reinforce good eating habits.
See the attachment below for additional technology guidance from the National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC). Note that the NAFCC recommends no more than two hours of screen time for the entire week of care.
For school-age children, the Internet has become a space for powerful learning tools, positive socializing, and a chance to engage in public life. However with these positive interactions come safety risks. These risks include the dangers of cyberbullying (online harassment and bullying), sexual solicitation, predators, and exposure to inappropriate content. It is important to find effective ways to educate both ourselves and children about Internet safety. The first step is to learn about the risks associated with the Internet and technology.
With the rise of technology, bullying has become common through such technology as instant messaging, cell phones, email, and social networking sites. This type of bullying can include (but is not limited to) being threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed, or otherwise targeted by another child. Bullying of this type can easily spiral out of control with a message, rumor, or photo forwarded to a group of recipients.
The Internet has also become a very easy way for child predators to communicate with children anonymously through instant messaging, social networking sites, cell phones and message boards. An online predator can be anyone and may not fit into any profile. The process by which the predator acts inappropriately toward the children is known as online grooming. This process involves an adult or adults preying on the vulnerabilities of children by offering gifts or attention, befriending them, and establishing an emotional connection over a period of time. Oftentimes, the child has been chatting or communicating with this person for a while and the predator gains trust. They will offer the child attention and affection and take advantage of their natural curiosity about sex.
Exposure to Inappropriate Content
While children are using the Internet at your program, they may be exposed to inappropriate material. This material could include sexually offensive or explicit language or pictures, violent material, or material that entices or encourages illegal activities. Inappropriate material can be accessed through Web browsing, shared in peer-to-peer networks, or sent by email or instant-messaging services. Inappropriate content may be potentially harmful or disturbing for children. This material may be accessed by accident. Sometimes, just spelling a word incorrectly in a search engine or clicking on a link may bring them to an inappropriate site. When addressing this issue in your program, it is important to acknowledge that some families may consider some material inappropriate based on cultural values and standards. The child’s age also is an important factor.
If you offer video games as an option in your program or permit children in your care to bring hand-held video game devices, think about video game content. See the Federal Trade Commission’s On Guard Online site (http://www.onguardonline.gov/) for more information on controls and video game ratings. Remember that some video games may connect to the Internet, so the information above regarding cyberbullying and Internet predators is relevant even within video game contexts. Also, remember that video games, even when educational, are a form of screen media, so you should think carefully about the amount of time children, even older children, play them.
For the older children in your care:
You should also be aware of warning signs that a child is experiencing trouble. There are a few warning signs that can help you identify a child who is facing online victimization, through bullying, predatory interactions, or viewing inappropriate content.
According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, a child may be a victim of cyberbullying if he or she:
- Unexpectedly stops using the computer
- Appears nervous or jumpy when an instant message, text message, or email appears
- Appears uneasy about going to school or outside in general
- Appears to be angry, depressed, or frustrated after using the computer
- Avoids discussions about what he or she is doing on the computer
- Becomes abnormally withdrawn from usual friends and family members
These warning signs may be true for other online victimization as well. Other signs to look for are: excessive use of the computer, secretive behavior around Internet use, changing to another web page when a provider appears, acting agitated, anxious or guilty when questioned about their online communications. Children also may begin to use adult or sexual language. They also may start to wear more revealing clothing or may become uncomfortable with their bodies. If you should see these warning signs, maintain open communication with the child. Let them know that you trust and support them. Often the children feel guilty or ashamed, so make sure the children know you won't judge them, you just want them to be safe.
For the younger children in your care:
Watch how these caregivers provide appropriate activities for children under 2 when television or screen media is used. Listen to the advice from these family child care providers and trainers regarding how to appropriately offer technology and screen time for a wide age range of children.
Create a Cybersafe Environment
As a family child care professional, you should develop Internet safety guidelines for your program. You can perform some simple steps to ensure cybersafety.
Draw Up an Agreement
It is a good idea to establish online rules and safety guidelines with the children in your program. This can be an agreement that both of you sign, acknowledging the rules to Internet usage. These rules should be posted above or around the computer station to remind children what they agreed to (see example in Apply section). It is a good idea to send a copy of the agreement home so the parents are aware of the expectations your program has for their children when using the computer at the program.
This is also a space where you can invite families to help you. Before drawing up the agreement, it is wise to consult with the families of the children you care for to understand their home rules or desires around their children’s technology and Internet use. You can ask families about safe websites they use with their children, or what concerns, if any, they have about their children’s technology use. This is a simple way to show families you value their input and wishes and ensures you honor their cultural values and standards.
Supervise Computer Use
The computers should be in an open area of the program space, allowing you to monitor the online activities. Make sure you have monitoring systems or parental control software to ensure children’s safety online. Share with families how you monitor to ensure safe Internet use.
Know the Popular Online Activities
Be involved and regularly ask children about their online activities. Being aware of the child’s favorite sites will allow you to not only connect with the child, but also ensure they are being safe.
Inform children what personal information is and to never to give it out over the Internet: Information children should be told to avoid giving out on the Internet includes their name, address, telephone number, passwords, parents' names, and the name of any club or team they are involved in at their school.
Report Problems or Concerns
Cyberbullying is becoming a very prominent issue among children. Reporting early suspicions of cyberbullying is important. If you suspect a child in your program has had contact with a child predator, notify the child’s parents as well as the proper authorities. If you observe a child viewing inappropriate materials or content, it is important to remind the child of the program policies and guidelines that they agreed to and signed, and, depending on the material, to contact the child’s parents.
Use Technology Thoughtfully
It is important that you thoughtfully choose the technology and media that children access or watch in your program. For example, the television programming should connect to your curriculum and serve an educational purpose. If you offer educational software for younger children on computers or portable devices, it is important that you preview all applications and follow screen-time guidelines. Children should be offered alternatives when screen media is provided (NAFCC, 2013).
Create a Healthy Cyber Community
Talk with families about the media and technology practices you use in your family child care and how these practices support their children’s safety and learning. You can share tips and information, such as that device use in the hour before bedtime can impact the quality and amount of sleep, as well as the ease of falling asleep. Use the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations on media use to guide this part of your support for families.
Look at the resources on On Guard Online (http://www.onguardonline.gov/) for educators and parents. In particular, look at the information on parental controls (http://www.onguardonline.gov/articles/0029-parental-controls). If you care for elementary school children who may have started to use chat software, social networking sites (including Facebook), or blogs, see this information on kids and socializing online (http://www.onguardonline.gov/articles/0012-kids-and-socializing-online).
Next, review the Thinking About Internet Safety Activity listed below. Read the scenarios and answer the questions that follow. Share your responses with your trainer, coach or family child care administrator. Compare your answers to the suggested responses.
Use the Sample Internet Safety Contract to draw up your own. If you already have one for your program, compare yours to the example. Is there anything you would add or remove?
Think about at what age you will have children in your program sign the contract that you develop. You can also consider books about technology or computer use that will help children think critically about how they engage with technology. Here are some examples:
- It’s a Book by Lane Smith
- The Berenstain Bears’ Computer Trouble by Jan Berenstain
- Little Bird’s Internet Security Adventure by Jim Mercado, Siobhan MacDermott, and Marlo Garnsworthy, see http://aa-download.avg.com/filedir/fas/family-safety_little-bird.pdf
Use the short Checklist for Identifying Exemplary Uses of Technology and Interactive Media for Early Learning resource as you consider the type and frequency of media you introduce in your family child care home. During non-screen activity time, remember that sometimes a simple solution, like covering your television screen with a piece of fabric, can help reduce children’s expectations for screens.
|Blog||A personal journal that posted on the Web. This can be interactive and a form of social networking|
|Cyberbully||A child or youth who uses the Internet or other technology (such as cell phone), to intentionally harm, harass, or threaten other children or youth; this is done in a deliberate manner and in a repeated pattern|
|Cybersafe Environment||Safe and responsible usage of the Internet in a program environment|
|Grooming||Adult befriending and establishing an emotional connection with a child or youth with the intention to exploit or lower inhibitions in preparations for sexual abuse|
|Screen time||Time spent using a device such as a computer, television, tablet, or games console|
American Academy of Pediatrics. Media and Children. http://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/Pages/Media-and-Children.aspx
Beyens, I. & Nathanson, A.I. (2018). Electronic Media Use and Sleep Among Preschoolers: Evidence for Time-Shifted and Less Consolidated Sleep. Health Communication, 1-8.
Cyberbullying Research Center. https://cyberbullying.org/cyberbullying-warning-signs
National Association for Family Childcare. (2013). Quality Standards for NAFCC Accreditation.