At a recent Horsham Township Board of Supervisors meeting, I was greeted with an unexpected welcome: a friendly (but slobbery) lick from an enthusiastic dog.
But this wasn’t just any dog; it was actually the newest addition to Horsham Township’s police force. Yes, this K9 was being sworn in with a unique and crucial role – that of a hard-drive sniffing dog.
It’s a vital role in the fight against cybercrimes and child pornography. When the police need to serve an arrest warrant, dog officers like this one assist by locating hidden phones and hard drives.
Learning about the new canine officer’s role served as a stark reminder of the inherent dangers that can lurk on the internet, especially for children with complex changes who may struggle with impulse control, social skills, and general naivete.
While the internet offers numerous benefits, it also harbors a plethora of age-inappropriate content, all just a click away.
A January 2023 study by Common Sense Media shed light on a disquieting statistic: a significant majority of teens aged 13–17 reported accessing online pornography. Even more concerning, a startling 15% of these children had their first exposure to explicit content at the age of 10 or younger.
So what is a parent to do when it comes to digital safety for children with complex challenges?
Allowing your child to reap the benefits of technology while also keeping them safe can be difficult. Thankfully, there are technological tools we can employ as parents to help our children become responsible digital citizens…
Kidslox. This is the tool my family uses in our home. It is easy and intuitive for parents; you can set time limits, limit what apps can be used, filter content, turn off internet access to certain devices, limit a device to texting only, and more.
Circle. This tool allows parents to customize settings for individual family members, enabling them to choose age-appropriate apps and website content while blocking inappropriate ones. This ensures a safer browsing experience on social media, video and gaming apps, and more.
Qustodio. With a built-in time limit feature, Qustodio also provides comprehensive reports on children's online activities — from time spent on particular apps to which sites were visited — and allows for blocking specific websites.
Norton Family. Norton Family helps parents keep an eye on their children's online activity, ensuring they access only safe content. It provides web monitoring, time supervision, and location tracking.
mSpy. If you have a student who consistently gets themselves into trouble online, this may be the tool for you. It is invasive (perhaps even borderline creepy in some ways!), but your kiddo will not be able to get away with anything without you knowing about it. This comprehensive monitoring tool can track messages, calls, current GPS location, SnapChat, WhatsApp, and much more. It's especially useful for parents who want a deeper insight into their children's smartphone usage.
At TQS, we prioritize digital literacy education for our students because we understand the critical importance of making children aware of potential online threats and teaching them responsible internet usage. Yet equally significant is the role parents play with open communication and in-home lessons on online safety.
Research underscores the gradual development of decision-making and impulse control in children's frontal lobes, emphasizing the need for adult guidance in matters as crucial as online safety.
In my role at TQS, I see firsthand how treacherous online interactions can be for students with social skill deficits – and I am constantly dismayed by how many students believe their social media accounts are private. They eagerly and defensively refer to “my Instagram,” as I gently try to explain that it is actually Meta’s Instagram that the company is simply allowing you to use in exchange for advertising to you and harvesting your data.
Because of this, I am grateful to have digital tools at our disposal so we can monitor our children’s online activity and help them learn how to stay safe online. And after attending the Horsham Township meeting, I was even happier to hear that there was one more “tool” in the world to help apprehend some of the nefarious people that lurk on the internet — even if he did drool on me.
A canine cop to help rid the world of child pornography? That’s a good dog as far as I’m concerned!
Have you had experience using any of these tools in your own family? Let us know your thoughts on digital safety, and share your own favorite tech tools, over on Facebook.