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Online Instant Messaging and Blogging Safety Advice for Students and Parents
Breaking up. Making up. Making plans. Asking someone out. Saying "hey."
The way we communicate is evolving. Telephone conversations and face-to-face interactions are being replaced by on-line communications. Students use these new technology-based mediums of communication to have difficult conversations, to make plans for the weekend, or to discuss a special someone they have just noticed at school. These are all part of the online world in which we live. From the simple to the more complex, there are few limits on the way we are capable of connecting through instant messages (IMs) and most recently-'blogging' (short for a 'Web log').
However, are these methods of on-line communication safe?
Some teens give out their IM user name instead of phone numbers to new friends or potential dates. 'Bloggers' will accept requests to be 'added' to a friend list without really knowing the person who has made the request. A growing number of teens share passwords, as a symbol of trust and friendship, for their online accounts-a practice Internet service providers strongly warn against. Many teens are posting their actual pictures, or even identifying themselves with full names, addresses, phone numbers, school names, and job locations after-school.
With this much information available to anyone who has Internet access, it would be very easy to track the movements of students who are not careful with their personal information-perhaps even resulting in unsavory consequences. Remember-when you are online in any kind of a public forum, where anyone can read what you post, you risk having someone you don't know reading your posts to gain information about you and your family. People are not always who they seem to be.
Basic Rules for Online Safety
- Use a Pseudonym and Don't Give Away Any Identifying Details: Be smart and avoid giving out or posting your name (don't use a jumble of your real name or a name which could allow someone to identify you), your mailing address, where you are located geographically, your telephone number, the name of your school, reference to your teachers' names, age, email address, or any other identifying information. Do not post actual images of yourself, especially revealing pictures on your 'blog' site.
- Limit Your Audience: Some 'blogging' services allow you to designate portions of your blog as readable only by a limited few of your most trusted friends. If joining a 'blog' site requires a registration with a searchable, public profile, set your profile to private. Most IM and 'blog' sites will have these features controlled through a preferences or security option in the software.
- Assume What You Publish on the Web is Permanent: Keep your comments about friends, parents, teachers, and others positive. Feelings of other users may be hurt and your remarks may be interpreted as serious, even though you felt you were only joking. Anything published online can be printed and shared with others at any point in time.
- Talk to Your Parents About Their Expectations and Rules for Going Online: Do your parents know about your personal 'blog' site or your IM address? Make sure you and your parents are on the same channel when it comes to your online activities. This understanding should include when you go online, how long you stay online, and what activities you can do online. Communicating with your parents does not mean you give up your privacy, it just means that you have an agreement based on mutual trust and understanding.
- Never Get Together With Someone You "Meet" Online: The biggest danger to your safety is getting together with someone you 'meet' online. You never know if the people you meet online are whom they say they are.
- Never Respond to Chat Comments that are Hostile, Inappropriate, or in Any Way Make You Feel Uncomfortable: It isn't your fault if you receive a post or message that is unkind or in anyway makes you feel uncomfortable, but if you get such a message, don't respond. Sending responses or engaging in conversation with people who send such comments encourages them to continue inappropriate online behavior. Show inappropriate posts or messages to your parents or a trusted adult to see if there is anything you can do to make the comments stop.
From the Washington County Schools system's perspective, IMs and 'blogging' with friends on the Internet are not an acceptable use of the system's network and computers. Students have been given the opportunity to read and sign an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) within their schools. This form also requires a parent signature as well. IM and 'blog' sites will be blocked and every precaution will be taken to prevent students from accessing these non-educational sites during the school day. Students who repeatedly abuse their agreement with the school system by attempting to access blocked sites can be denied access to computers and Internet anywhere in their building.
Just remember, your private thoughts are no longer your private thoughts when they are published online in any form. When you share your 'world' through this new high-tech way of 'passing notes' and make them permanent by adding them to a blog site or in an IM, the whole world is your potential audience. Your 'blogs' or IMs may disclose personal information which would allow strangers to have the ability to find you. 'Blogs' or IMs which are negative and may slander or 'attack' others could be printed out and your words used against you at a later date. Do you really want everyone to know your private and personal thoughts and have the ability to find you?
If you have questions about these suggestions or questions about how to stay safer while on the Internet, see your school's Instructional Technology Resource Teacher.