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Safety meets technology for Red Wing middle schoolers

RED WING - Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and other social media sites may seem like a foreign world to parents. But for many children, the Internet, cellphones and other technologies are their playground.

That means that it may be harder for parents to protect their children from cyber bullying, inappropriate content or other dangerous situations.

"In the old days, (this technology) wasn't an issue," Twin Bluff Middle School Principal Chris Palmatier said. "Now it's 24/7. It's non-stop. ... We can't board up Facebook."

On Wednesday, Dave Eisenmann, the director of instructional technology for Minnetonka (Minn.) School District, talked to Red Wing seventh-graders about how to protect themselves -- and their reputations -- on the Internet. Later that evening, Eisenmann held a second presentation for parents and community members.

"It's a really important topic," Eisenmann said of children and the internet. "Technology is entwined with everything we do."

Cyber bullying was one of the main topics Eisenmann addressed with the students.

"We talked about how much easier it is to be nasty to someone when you don't have to face them," Eisenmann said of his presentation.

His presentation used video clips and photos to help show kids that once something is posted online, it's nearly impossible to delete.

"You can't take it back," he said.

In addition, online bullying often has a larger audience -- making it more traumatic for the victim -- than regular bullying.

Twin Bluff guidance counselor Megan Latch said that the school sees its fair share of cyber bullying, which includes name calling, taunts and sometimes even threats.

"We deal with it every day," Latch said.

Complicating the problem is that the school can't reprimand students for what they do in their free time. "We can't control what they do at home," Latch said.

But Latch, Palmatier and other school staff can step in and discipline students when that behavior starts to affect what goes on at school.

"We have to make sure kids feel safe when they're at school," Latch said.

"If it is creating a stir, we will address it," Palmatier agreed.

Latch said aside from safety, another concern about cyber bullying is that it distracts from learning. "It takes a lot of energy that they could be using (for school)," she said.

Because schools don't always have a say in students' behavior, Eisenmann said educating kids on proper Internet etiquette is especially important. On Wednesday night, he gave parents a list of tips and resources to help them guide their children on the internet.

"Have upfront expectations and beliefs (for your child's behavior)," he said.

Eisenmann said parents should openly talk with their children about what they do online, make sure their children understand their expectations, limit screen time and actively monitor what children do on the internet.

"Check in with kids on a regular basis," Eisenmann said.

Because new technologies develop quickly and children are often more tech-savvy than their parents, Eisenmann also suggested installing filters on computers, cellphones and internet connections.

"I realize this is a lot of work," he said, but added that it's worth it to safeguard children.

Eisenmann also briefly discussed texting, sexting, pornography and Internet privacy with both students and parents.