Spinal Column: June Is Internet Safety Month

Sen. Mike Kowall

Sen. Mike Kowall

By Sen. Mike Kowall
15th Senate District

Things have changed. In today’s world, social media and social networking are increasingly important in people’s lives. This is much different than the world of only fifteen years ago.

Facebook, the most popular social media service (more than 2 billion users!) is just 14 years old. Twitter has been around for 12 years, Instagram for eight, and Snapchat for seven.

Clearly, we recently have been undergoing a kind of technological and social revolution.

During a revolution, it’s difficult to keep up with all of the changes.

Because this technology has been embraced by youth, it is incumbent upon parents to be aware of some of the possible dangers that can occur when our kids head online.

June is recognized annually as National Internet Safety Month as a means to spread awareness of the various ways residents can keep themselves and their families safe online.

It is significant that we turn to this issue in June, the beginning of summer. According to the National Cyber Security Alliance, children and teens aged 8-18 spend an average of 7-and-a-half hours each day during the summer with electronic devices — where they may be vulnerable to cyberbullying, online predators and other criminal activity.

As parents, one of our jobs is to talk to our children and teens about cyber threats. We can follow these steps:

• Only become friends on social media with people you actually know, and never share details like address, school, or even last name with strangers;
• Conduct Internet searches with specific search terms so that they don’t yield unwanted results;
• Install safety filters that limit what kids can see and do online; and
• Before your child visits a new website, check it out yourself.

The Department of Homeland Security’s “Stop.Think.Connect.” campaign has similar tips that also are useful:

Stop: Before letting children use the Internet, set clear guidelines about which sites they are allowed to visit and what they should do if they see something questionable.

Think: Take a moment to be certain the path ahead is clear. Watch for warning signs that may indicate your child is using the Internet unsafely.

Connect: Enjoy the Internet with greater confidence, knowing you’ve taken steps to safeguard yourself and your family.

In Michigan, another way to protect children online is by joining the Michigan Child Protection Registry to block harmful and inappropriate content.

The registry is a service that blocks adult-oriented material from reaching a child’s email inbox, cell phone or instant messenger ID. For more information or to join the registry, please visit ProtectMiChild.com.

For more information on online safety, visit the Michigan Cyber Safety Initiative website at Michigan.gov/csi and the National Cyber Security Alliance at StaySafeOnline.org.

Wishing you a safe, secure, healthy and happy summer!

This column first appeared in the Spinal Column newsweekly. Senator Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, is the Michigan Senate majority floor leader. He serves the residents of the 15th Senate District, representing western Oakland County.