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My mom grew up in the 1950’s.  I remember her telling me a story of her and a friend seeing a word spray painted on a building.  They did not understand the word, had not heard it before, and so they got a dictionary and looked it up.  Their confusion continued as the literal definition did not make sense for someone to have painted the word on a building.  Eventually she learned the slang meaning of the word and the memory made sense.  I grew up in the 1980’s.  I remember wanting to jam to the “Grease” cassette.  My mom had certain songs we were not allowed to listen to.  We played them when she was gone, I got the words out and read the lyrics printed on the cassette insert.  Again, my little brain did not make a connection for why these select songs were off limits.  Listening as an adult one day it all made perfect sense.  Understanding context can change comprehension.

When I was growing up, the books and resources available were controlled by my parents.  If they did not want something for my eyes they, generally, could just remove them, ban them, or never allow them into our home.  Classrooms were the same.  Everything in the classroom came through the teacher, librarian, and administration so kids were protected.  Today we are raising our kids in a digital world.  The World Wide Web, social networks, search engines, instant messages, texts, and a plethora of other resources bring things into our homes and our classrooms that feel beyond our control.  It is scary.  There are filters and systems available to help us, but kids are smart and not everything can be kept out. We can hide our heads, cross our arms and refuse to open the world to our children OR we can educate ourselves, have open discussion, and take steps to continue to keep our children safe.   So, as a parent and an educator what can you do?

Talk—Discuss your expectations with kids.  Talk with them about safety and what they are doing.  Find out what kids want to know about, what sites they want to use, and the social media they are part of.  The online world is a real, interactive part of their lives.  Talk about this virtual world as you do their life at school and home.

Stay informed—sign up for accounts with Instagram, social media, twitter and other sites that your kids use.  Go on and look at how these sites work and what kids do with them.  In the classroom use academic social sites, such as Edmodo, and monitor what is being said and what is going on.  Sign up for email alerts to help you monitor things as well.

State Your Expectations—Be sure you are clear on what you want and expect for technology use.  There are contracts available for both classroom and home use.  Google and find one, then adapt it to match your needs.  In my home contract, I added the personal values I want my son to learn.  It included the importance of communication, work ethic, as well as respecting yourself and others.  If your school does not have a contract, draw up one for your classroom with expectations and consequence.  I always require my students to use a paper resource before looking online or using a web site or app.  There is still an art to using a book. I use LiveBinderDelicious, and other resources to limit their search possibilities.  Searching for items that are inappropriate is swiftly met with the removal of technology privileges.

Teach—Learn with and from your children.  Explain why it is important to have strong communication skills and not rely entirely on IM and text.  Teach them to think about the resources and information they are reading, using, playing with.  Discuss reliability and authenticity of sites.  Teach them to think about and evaluate what they are posting on their behalf as they leave a digital footprint.  Our kids will forever have a virtual image of themselves that will follow them.  Teach them what this is and the important impact this will have on their lives.

It’s a new world out there.  As our children reach out beyond our home and classroom walls we have the responsibility to educate them and keep them safe in their travels.  Keeping kids protected has a new definition now.  It is about using tools with them and having discussions about safety.  It is about learning from mistakes and making our kids responsible citizens as they reach across the globe, learn from each other, and travel in our new virtual world.

Lori Rice is a fourth-grade teacher at West Elementary in Wamego, Kansas, who has taught K-2 reading...

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