Back-to-School Time Means Brushing up on Online Safety

School is back in session. As parents with school-aged children say goodbye to summer and hello to a new year, they also find themselves trying to strike the right balance in their homes when it comes to technology and internet usage, homework responsibilities, and quality family time. And while the explosion of connected devices, apps, and numerous websites in recent years has unleashed new possibilities for all, ensuring that kids stay safe online can prove to be challenging. 

This past summer, NCTA intern Sierra Cole shared her family’s perspective on what it’s like to parent in today’s online-centric world. In her account below, she also shares a few of the ways that parents can utilize the cable industry’s resources to garner the support they need to raise responsible digital citizens.

My name is Sierra Cole, and I’m a 21-year-old senior at Montclair University. As the oldest of three siblings of different ages, my parents, like many others, have had to learn how to navigate an evolving digital world to ensure that their kids are safe online, all while giving them the opportunity to explore new experiences at the same time.

Growing up in the early 2000s, things weren’t as technology heavy as they are today, though the digital era was on the rise. In many ways, this made it a lot easier for my parents because they didn’t feel the pressure to be as tech-savvy with myself and my middle brother as they needed to be with my youngest brother, now 11, when he started his online journey. But when the world of apps exploded, my parents realized how distracting some of these new experiences were for him. With Kik Messenger, Instagram, and Snapchat now at the palm of his hand, it became challenging for him to balance his schoolwork and social life at the same time. My parents found themselves policing his online activities and supervising him far more than they had to with myself and my other brother.

A few of the new ways my parents monitor his usage include restricting his online video game time to one hour a day, and allotting more internet hours towards homework and educational purposes. Homework must also be completed before other internet activities commence. The family computer is set up in the kitchen so that they can get a closer look at his online activities while they are watching TV or cooking. And over the years, they have held routine family meetings with all three of us to go over online safety. They have always kept tabs on how our schools implement online safety so that they could mimic the same strategies in our household.

Fortunately, the cable industry provides many resources, tools, and tips to help guide parents on the right path towards online safety and which use these similar strategies that my parents implement in my household.

Comcast’s xFi, for example, is a network managing system that allows parents to see and control which devices in the house are online and for how long. Similarly, Disney provides a controls feature called Circle, which enables parents to plug in the piece of hardware into their home Wi-Fi router and to monitor the amount of time their kids are online, and the sites they are visiting. Then there’s Mediacom‘s parental controls, which help parents protect their kids from online predators and offensive content through its filtering and blocking mechanisms. Cox also offers parental controls, as well as a library of videos and online tutorials on internet safety through their partnership with Common Sense Media.

Not to mention, there is a wealth of video guides and online tips out there that internet service providers put together for families interested in learning about how social media and new technology are affecting their kids. hosts many of these resources and information found across the cable industry, as well as an #ICYMI video collection that highlights ways that parents can engage with their kids around healthy media use. With dangers like cyberbullying, hacking, and identity fraud lurking behind the scenes, my parents knew that two-way communication was key to ensuring our family’s safety online, and all of these resources encourage parents to have this one-on-one time with their children.

More kids are accessing new apps on new devices and sharing deeper relationships with the internet than ever before, which is why it’s critical that parents become savvy about the latest technology out there, learn new ways to guide their children’s internet use, and help them foster a powerful but smart, life-long relationship with technology and the internet.