First Person

Ask an Expert: Internet safety tips for parents

Q. June is Internet Safety Month. Can you give us some tips to keep our children safe online?

A. In this age of technology, our children truly are the digital natives while many adults, including myself,  are digital immigrants. But as parents and school personnel, we still need to educate ourselves about the benefits and challenges for our kids in a digital world.

The internet’s good side

Yes, the benefits cannot be denied.  Technology helps us and our kids have quick access to the latest information.  A study conducted by the Pew Research Institute published in 2010 found that 62 percent of teens get their news about current events and politics online. Forty-eight percent bought things online with 31 percent getting health, diet or physical fitness information from the internet.  Seventeen percent say they get information on health topics that are hard to discuss from sites online.

But most teens will tell you that the most important function of the internet for them is the ability to stay connected to their world.

boy on laptop computerThe Kaiser Foundation 2010 study Generation M2 , reports that because of the multi-tasking our youth do using more than one form of media at a time, they average a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes worth of media content into the daily 7.5 hours they spend with media.  This puts them in danger from the challenges that media creates, including cyberbullying, sexting and other forms of sexual solicitation, revealing private information to potential predators and exposing computers to viruses and other risks.

A commercial medium

With children as young as 2 ½ being exposed to the internet either directly or by watching parents or older siblings on the computer, we need to remember that the internet is a highly commercialized medium. Even online games for younger children vary widely in the quality, educational value and developmental match with children’s abilities.

The study entitled Like Taking Candy from a Baby: How Young Children Interact with Online Environments by W. Buckleitner in May 2008 found the online games PBS KIDS & Sesame Street had the highest educational value; NOGGIN’s games were some of the best designed; and Club Penguin and Webkinz delivered the best overall experience. Parents need to be watchful as websites frequently tantalize children with enticing options or even threats that their online creations will become inaccessible unless a purchase is made.

Social networking sites such as MySpace, Friendster or Xanga allow children to create their own websites and share their personal information with anyone anywhere.  According to the Kaiser M2 study of 2010, 74 percent of all seventh- to to 12th-graders say they have a profile on a social networking site.

Younger kids getting on Facebook

Note to parents: Facebook’s terms of service require users to be at least 13 years old yet a Consumer Reports’ study released in May 2011 reports 7.5 MILLION Facebook users are under the age of 13.  Some parents have discovered their children have multiple social networking sites – one they show their parents and one or more that they show the rest of the world.

So what is a parent to do?  Basic rules apply to internet safety, too.  First, tell your kids not to talk to strangers, especially about sex. Role play with them what to do if contacted by a stranger especially with inappropriate content. Children fear their parents will limit or deny their computer access if they report these contacts.  Talk to your children about what you will and won’t do when they let you know about this kind of communication.

Second, talk to your children about going into certain virtual neighborhoods – 25 percent of youth had one or more unwanted exposure to sexual pictures while online with 73 percent happening because of their own online surfing, according to a 2006 study on teen internet safety.

More recommendations for parents

  • Education yourself – and this includes letting your child help to educate you.
  • Talk to your children about internet use and, specifically, safety.  These conversations need to be routinely repeated and adapted to the developmental level of your child.
  • Teach your child that once something is uploaded onto the internet it can never be retrieved.
  • Keep an eye on the screen – computers in bedrooms are not recommended.
  • Consider whether or not you want your child’s phone in his or her bedroom after lights out. One study found 24 percent of teen couples were talking every hour between midnight and 5 a.m.
  • Be suspicious of free offers and teach your children to be wary also and remind kids to read before they click.
  • Help kids steer clear of gossiping and bullying and teach them how to handle it if it happens to them or a friend.
  • Set search engine preferences – Google’s default is “moderate.”  To change the setting, go to the “tools” icon (a gear) in the right hand corner of the Google home screen and choose “search settings.”  When the menu opens scroll down to “safe search filtering” and you can reset the preference.
  • Encourage a balance between online and face-to-face time.
  • Consider a contract with your child about phone and computer use.
  • As always, promote self confidence and high self esteem and open lines of communication between you and your children.

Technology is here to stay.  We are the ones that need to continue to educate ourselves and protect our children.  Enjoy the summer and safe surfing!

For more information and safety tips, please visit the Colorado School Safety Resource Center’s website at: and scroll down to “Internet Safety.”

First Person

I’m a Bronx teacher, and I see up close what we all lose when undocumented students live with uncertainty

The author at her school.

It was our high school’s first graduation ceremony. Students were laughing as they lined up in front of the auditorium, their families cheering them on as they entered. We were there to celebrate their accomplishments and their futures.

Next to each student’s name on the back of those 2013 graduation programs was the college the student planned to attend in the fall. Two names, however, had noticeable blanks next to them.

But I was especially proud of these two students, whom I’ll call Sofia and Isabella. These young women started high school as English learners and were diagnosed with learning disabilities. Despite these obstacles, I have never seen two students work so hard.

By the time they graduated, they had two of the highest grade point averages in their class. It would have made sense for them to be college-bound. But neither would go to college. Because of their undocumented status, they did not qualify for financial aid, and, without aid, they could not afford it.

During this year’s State of the Union, I listened to President Trump’s nativist rhetoric and I thought of my students and the thousands of others in New York City who are undocumented. President Trump falsely portrayed them as gang members and killers. The truth is, they came to this country before they even understood politics and borders. They grew up in the U.S. They worked hard in school. In this case, they graduated with honors. They want to be doctors and teachers. Why won’t we let them?

Instead, as Trump works to repeal President Obama’s broader efforts to enfranchise these young people, their futures are plagued by uncertainty and fear. A Supreme Court move just last week means that young people enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program remain protected but in limbo.

While Trump and the Congress continue to struggle to find compromise on immigration, we have a unique opportunity here in New York State to help Dreamers. Recently, the Governor Cuomo proposed and the state Assembly passed New York’s DREAM Act, which would allow Sofia, Isabella, and their undocumented peers to access financial aid and pursue higher education on equal footing with their documented peers. Republicans in the New York State Senate, however, have refused to take up this bill, arguing that New York state has to prioritize the needs of American-born middle-class families.

This argument baffles me. In high school, Sofia worked hard to excel in math and science in order to become a radiologist. Isabella was so passionate about becoming a special education teacher that she spent her free periods volunteering with students with severe disabilities at the school co-located in our building.

These young people are Americans. True, they may not have been born here, but they have grown up here and seek to build their futures here. They are integral members of our communities.

By not passing the DREAM Act, it feels like lawmakers have decided that some of the young people that graduate from my school do not deserve the opportunity to achieve their dreams. I applaud the governor’s leadership, in partnership with the New York Assembly, to support Dreamers like Sofia and Isabella and I urge Senate Republicans to reconsider their opposition to the bill.

Today, Sofia and Isabella have been forced to find low-wage jobs, and our community and our state are the poorer for it.

Ilona Nanay is a 10th grade global history teacher and wellness coordinator at Mott Hall V in the Bronx. She is also a member of Educators for Excellence – New York.

First Person

I was an attorney representing school districts in contract talks. Here’s why I hope the Supreme Court doesn’t weaken teachers unions.

PHOTO: Creative Commons / supermac1961

Many so-called education reformers argue that collective bargaining — and unions — are obstacles to real change in education. It’s common to hear assertions about how “restrictive” contracts and “recalcitrant” unions put adult interests over children’s.

The underlying message: if union power were minimized and collective bargaining rights weakened or eliminated, school leaders would be able to enact sweeping changes that could disrupt public education’s status quo.

Those that subscribe to this view are eagerly awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. At issue is the constitutionality of “agency” or “fair share” fees — employee payroll deductions that go to local unions, meant to cover the costs of negotiating and implementing a bargaining agreement.

In states that permit agency fees (there are about 20), a teacher may decline to be part of a union but must still pay those fees. If the Supreme Court rules that those agency fees are unconstitutional, and many teachers do not voluntarily pay, local unions will be deprived of resources needed to negotiate and enforce bargaining agreements.

Based on my experience as an attorney representing school districts in bargaining and contract issues, I have this to say to those hoping the Court will strike down these fees: be careful what you wish for.

Eliminating fair share fees (and trying to weaken unions) represents a misguided assumption about bargaining — that the process weakens school quality. To the contrary, strong relationships with unions, built through negotiations, can help create the conditions for student and school success. Indeed, in my experience, the best superintendents and school boards seized bargaining as an opportunity to advance their agenda, and engaged unions as partners whenever possible.

Why, and how, can this work? For one, the process of negotiations provides a forum for school leaders and teachers to hear one another’s concerns and goals. In my experience, this is most effective in districts that adopt “interest-based bargaining,” which encourages problem-solving as starting point for discussions as opposed to viewing bargaining as a zero-sum game.

Interest-based bargaining begins with both sides listing their major concerns and brainstorming solutions. The touchstone for a solution to be adopted in a bargaining agreement: Is the proposal in the best interests of children? This important question, if embedded in the process, forces both sides to carefully consider their shared mission.

For example, some districts I worked with paid teachers less than comparable neighboring districts did. It would have been unreasonable for unions to insist that their pay be increased enough to even that difference out, because that would mean reducing investments in other items of importance to children, like technology or infrastructure. At the same time, it would have been untenable for management to play “hard ball” and deny the problem, because to do so would likely lead to a disgruntled workforce.

Instead, both sides were forced to “own” the issue and collaboratively craft plausible solutions. That made unions more agreeable to proposals that demonstrated some commitment by the district to addressing the issue of pay, and districts open to other things that they could provide without breaking the budget (like more early release days for professional development).

To be sure, many school administrators could get frustrated with the process of bargaining or having to consult the negotiated agreement when they want to make a change. Some districts would very much like to adopt an extended school day, for example, but they know that they must first consult and negotiate such an idea with the union.

Yet, in districts where school administrators had built a reservoir of goodwill through collective bargaining, disagreement does not come at the cost of operating schools efficiently. Both sides come to recognize that while they inevitably will disagree on some things, they can also seek agreement — and often do on high-stakes matters, like teacher evaluations.

How does this relate to the Supreme Court’s pending decision? Without fees from some teachers, unions may lack the resources to ensure that contract negotiations and enforcement are robust and done well. This could create a vicious cycle: teachers who voluntarily pay fees for bargaining in a post-Janus world, assuming the court rules against the unions, will view such payments as not delivering any return on investment. In turn, they will stop contributing voluntarily, further degrading the quality of the union’s services.

Even more troubling, if fair share fees are prohibited, resentment and internal strife will arise between those who continue to pay the fees and those who refuse. This would undercut a primary benefit of bargaining — labor peace and a sense of shared purpose.

Speaking as a parent, this raises a serious concern: who wants to send their child to a school where there is an undercurrent of bitterness between teachers and administrators that will certainly carry over into the classroom?

It is easy to see the appeal of those opposing agency fees. No one wants to see more money going out of their paycheck. The union-as-bogeyman mentality is pervasive. Moreover, in my experience, some teachers (especially the newer ones) do not recognize the hidden benefits to bargaining contracts.

But, obvious or not, agency fees help promote a stable workplace that allows teachers to concentrate on their primary responsibility: their students. Removing the key ingredient threatens this balance.

Mark Paige is a former school teacher and school law attorney who represented school districts in New England. He is currently an associate professor of public policy at the University of Massachusetts – Dartmouth.