December 4, 2023

(TNS) — Cindy Flores now has greater power to navigate her children’s technology — and protect them from its dangers so they can more safely benefit from its resources.

“They are very tech savvy, so this I think would be very very helpful,” said Flores, who had just attended a one-hour seminar titled, “Parent Protech: A Family’s Guide to Navigating Technology Restrictions.”

The Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District Guidance and Counseling Department presented the event Tuesday night at the school district’s administration building.

The district invited Brock Murphy, co-founder and operator of Parent ProTech, which seeks to provide parents with vital information about their children’s technology.

Murphy spoke earlier Tuesday about the importance of familiarizing parents with such platforms as Snapchat and TikTok and the complexities of iPhones and Xbox. Children routinely use iPads for games and class work.

“Technology is such a resource for families and for kids and for everyone,” Murphy said. “Also with that comes some negative impacts that can happen, whether it be online bullying, or predators, all that kind of thing.”

Awareness of technology on the part of parents and their ability to put restrictions on different technology items is important for the mental health of our youth, said Sylvia Gamboa, HCISD director of guidance and counseling.

“What we’re seeing with your students is, a lot of times they’re engaging in a lot of the social media, and it can affect them in several ways,” Gamboa said. “It’s not just cyber bullying, but it’s also their self-image, as well as things that they’re seeing that they’re not able to work with because of their maturity levels.”

She has seen first-hand some of the consequences of this, the anxiety and the depression. She isn’t aware of any catfishing incidents in the district, but Gamboa and her staff remain vigilant and watchful.

Catfish refers to someone online pretending to be someone other than who they really are.

“That can be very concerning not just because they may not be who they say they are, but they might not be the age they say they are,” Gamboa said. “They may be older people that are trying to contact our students. So it’s important for them to be aware.”

Both Gamboa and Murphy emphasized that children should not share their personal information online to people they don’t know outside of that technology.

Murphy talked about the “Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” of technology.

First, there’s the “Good.”

The new and ever changing technology can be a portal to so many grand opportunities and experiences. It can take users to the Louvre in Paris, Machu Picchu in Peru and the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

Children can take virtual fantastic voyages through the bloodstream of the human body, get online tutoring for calculus, and reach out to professors in far away places.

Gaming consoles provide hours of challenging fun with like minded enthusiasts throughout the world, and if they’re really good, stand to make some serious money in competitions.

Then there’s the “Bad.”

It’s easy to become addicted to technology, especially to iPhones that put the world in the user’s pocket. Students can easily use technology to cheat on exams. The technology has helped reduce attention spans and reading levels have rapidly declined.

As in all things, however, those portals can be invitations to hideous things, which is the “Ugly.”

Through such social media platforms as Facebook and Instagram, children can be subjected to cyber bullying. Predators can catfish themselves as youngsters and manipulate the innocent into dark and dangerous activities, and drug dealers can hawk their wares to underage kids.

This can increase mental health disorders and long-term cognitive difficulties.

“We just want to kind of unpack that and talk to families about how we can promote the ‘Good’ and minimize the ‘Bad’ and the ‘Ugly,'” Murphy said. “There’s a lot that comes with the education piece and being aware of the different platforms that kids use, the different devices that kids use.”

Parent ProTech offers parents powerful information about location tracking settings, restrictions on video game consoles, content blockers, and parental control applications.

But technology is moving so fast it’s hard to keep up with — for the adults. Kids seem to do very well with those rapid changes, Gamboa said.

“Kids many times are able to bypass things that the parent is not aware of,” she said. “As parents, we know it’s important to monitor our students’ or our children’s use, but we may not know how to do that. Parent ProTech is a really great product. It has the tutorials for parents at a level where parents will understand how to go in there and navigate Snapchat, Instagram, the different gaming systems, and be able to really have that more control.”

Flores discovered that recently with her 4-year-old daughter.

“She gets my phone and uses YouTube kids,” she said. “Funny thing is, yesterday we were at the store and she had it and she started asking me, ‘Hey Mom, what’s six plus nine?’ and I was telling her. And then she was saying, ‘What’s seven plus three?’ I was like, ‘Why is she asking me this?'”

She took a look at her phone, which had a parental setting for YouTube Kids. Her daughter was trying to unlock it. Fortunately, her daughter wasn’t able to unlock it … yet.

All the more reason for parents to keep up with technology and its continuous changes. No need to become an expert, just knowledge to protect their kids. It’s no different from keeping glove compartments locked, closet doors fastened, and keeping items out of reach.

Now we have to put locks on technology, for lack of a better word.

Harlingen Superintendent Alicia Noyola commended Gamboa and Murphy for addressing issue with real solutions.

“There is so much technology available to our students,” she said. “This program (Parent ProTech) is a tool we can use at school and at home with our families. We are putting resources in our families’ hands and empowering guardians to keep their children safe.”

©2023 Valley Morning Star (Harlingen, Texas). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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