Last night I was made aware of this article where a dad was horrified to find sexual explicit messages to his 8-year-old in the game Roblox on his iPad. The dad played the game to be immediately brought into a very sexually suggestive set of actions in the game by other players. I was sickened and my stomach turned as I read through the whole interaction, but as I read shock and surprise, unfortunately, were not apart of my reaction to what I was hearing.
Let me say this as plain as I can, the internet (including internet connected apps and games) is not a safe place for children. Now, that may sound like crazy talk from someone whose professional title is Director of Digital Learning, but I cannot say that phrase with any more seriousness and sense of urgency.
Now, do not confuse that previous statement and take it to mean we should keep our kids off the internet. That is certainly the opposite of what I believe. To see our kids grow and our nation become even more of a leader in innovation, we need our kids to have the at-our-fingertips access to the knowledge that can make that happen. Our kids need access to the internet, and a vast number of kids need greater access (see Tom Murray’s article “Bridging the Connectivity Gap“), but that access has to come alongside responsible monitoring and an understanding on the part of both parents and educators. Without that responsible monitoring and understanding, stories like the one shared above will become even more common place than they already are becoming.
So, how then do we make ourselves smarter? What resources exist to help? Here is my go-to resource site:
Common Sense Media (http://www.commonsensemedia.org)
Common Sense media provides a portal for both educators and parents. Both of these resources are a treasure trove of information to help us each keep up with the lightning fast pace of the information available for internet connected apps, games, movies, and more.
Common Sense Media’s website for parents is a resource that I share at all campuses in the school district where I work as well as with any friend who is in need of resources to help with raising their kids in this digital age. As digital immigrants, parents (even tech savvy parents like myself) are learning that it is practically impossible to keep up with the pace that innovation is moving. That is where the power of common sense media’s site for parents makes us much smarter than we are without the site.
As you can see from the screen grab of the header from the site, you have immediate access to a wealth of information. “Family Guides” help you with essential information you should have based around the age of your child. “Parent Concerns” tackle the tough questions you have that perhaps you do not know who to ask, like:
And there are hundreds more questions. The “Videos” and “Reviews” sections are equally robust giving you answers questions about movies, books, tv, video games, apps, websites.
For example, here’s a screen grab of information for Roblox itself:
The full review for Roblox can be found here. My favorite part of parent reviews are the quick glance “what parents need to know” (seen above) and then the section for “Families Can Talk About” (seen below) that offers conversation ideas for parents and children.
Note the second question is about meting “strangers” online and engaging in that conversation with your child with more information linked. This kind of information is found on each review and is incredibly helpful for parents looking to quickly synthesize whether or not to allow your child access to an app, game, movie, and more.
Another useful section is the “User Reviews” (seen above) that summarizes using an age suggestion and star system, much like Amazon, which can then be clicked on to read multiple detailed reviews from other parent and kids. These reviews are often illuminating (“parents say”) and insightfully funny (“kids”) and give you insight from both sides of the coin to help you make up your mind on what’s appropriate for your family.
The educator side of Common Sense Media is very similar to the parent side but uses an educational value lens for the content.
Information on “Digital Citizenship” including multiple detailed (free) specific lessons can be found as well as a “Reviews & Ratings” section that allows educators (and parents) to search for apps, websites, and media for your classroom (homework help for parents) is an especially cool tool that most educators find really helpful as well.
As you can see from the screen grab above, you can choose the device, subject, grade, and then price (free, free to try, or paid) and get an assortment of apps that fit the criteria you are looking for. It is a database of common sense media and curated educator reviews that will give you all the information you could want. Here is an example for “Dreambox Math”
Note the nice amazon-like star rating with Common Sense Media’s review beside the teacher reviews, which you can click on and read about by real teachers with real opinions. Additionally even more information (seen below) is given that teachers need to know before trying to implement a tool in their classroom.
All in all, Common Sense Media’s website exists to make parents and educators lives with children and technology less of a mystery, and more of certainty by giving immediate, thorough access to anyone who is willing to take the time to read their information. Common Sense Media is also a completely free resource which is exactly what parents and teachers need.
Visit http://commonsensemedia.org for more information