Plugged-in parent

Bullying e-mails? Respond off-line

Q: My 3rd-grade daughter loves e-mail, but has been getting mean messages from some of the girls at school, calling her fat. I think it should be reported. Am I overreacting?

A: You are not overreacting. Cyberbullying is a serious problem and studies show that roughly 25 percent of kids in school today have experienced some form of cyberbullying. Unfortunately, girls are more susceptible than boys.

Cyberbullying comes in many forms and name-calling is just one example. Other types include exclusion, rumors, harassment, threats, impersonation, and stalking.

Bad online behavior should be dealt with immediately, and parents can help by stepping in, teaching kids to identify bullying behavior, and taking these actions:

Don’t respond online. Responding to a bully online just fuels the fire. Teach kids to tell an adult before they fire back.

Block the messages. Your Internet service provider can help you block unwanted e-mail and most instant messaging programs offer a block or ban option.

Alert others. If you know the bully, contact parents or school administration and let them know about the behavior. If bullying persists and includes threats of harm, contact local law enforcement.

Learn more about cyberbullying at

Kids gambling: Not legal, not safe

Q: I’ve heard that kids are gambling on the Internet. Isn’t that illegal?

A: Gambling is indeed illegal for kids — every state prohibits minors from gambling. While most gambling sites require users to be a legal adult, children can easily lie about their names and ages to meet the requirements and use a parent’s credit card.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, it’s easy for kids to access gambling sites. Some of the most popular non-gambling web sites carry tempting advertisements that link directly to gambling venues.

A family conversation on the subject is the best way to educate your children on the dangers of online gambling:

No payoff. Online gambling businesses make more money than they pay out. Even if a child wins, most sites have very stringent payout verification policies and are not required to pay out winnings to a minor.

Credit ratings. If kids rack up debt online, they could hurt their credit rating — or a parent’s rating, if they use a parent’s credit card. Bad credit can count against anyone buying a car, getting a student loan, or even getting a job.

Addictive behavior. Gambling is addictive. Watch for signs that kids are sneaky about online activities, accessing the Web at night or spending lots of time online alone. Gambling in social isolation and using credit to gamble may be risk factors for developing gambling problems.

Concerned your child is gambling? Visit or to learn more.

Upcoming Events

Loading upcoming events...

Plugged in parent

How much ‘you’ on YouTube?

Question: My 10-year-old son and his friends like to make short movies using the video camera. They want to post the video on YouTube. Should I allow it?

Answer: The YouTube phenomenon allows anyone with a camera to upload digital video snippets onto the Internet for all to see.

While YouTube’s policy forbids video uploads that contain pornography or gratuitous violence, video is not monitored or screened. YouTube relies on users of the site to flag any video they find offensive, and YouTube will review it to see if it goes against their policies.

YouTube can offer creative teens an outlet for sharing their creations, but  your child’s privacy and the film’s appropriateness are most important. Check out these general guidelines before posting videos.

Set an age requirement. Although there is no age requirement for YouTube users, YouTube is a social network of sorts — a place folks can post content and give feedback. For this reason, kids should be least 13 before they participate on their own.

Review privacy standards. Help teens realize that making fun of others, sending a belittling video message to others or mimicking stereotypes are not appropriate. Even kids who are savvy about protecting their private information may not realize that identifying background items in video footage of their home, neighborhood, bedroom, or school can compromise their safety.

Require permission. Teens should ask permission from parents before uploading video when they first begin. This gives parents a chance to screen the video and have conversations about content boundaries. If other kids are in the video, all parents should give consent before the video is posted.

Need to delete a video? If your child has uploaded a video without your permission and you want to delete it, simply log into the account, click the My Account link, then the Remove Video button. Choose from the list of videos — a prompt will ask if you’re sure. Click yes, and your video will be removed.


Too young for computer time?

Question: We just got a new laptop and my 4-year-old wants to use it. I know there are great programs for kids, but does she really need to be on the computer at this age?

Answer: Kids today are born with a mouse in their hand, and it is not uncommon to see toddlers identifying letters and numbers, as well as learning to move the mouse on the computer.

A computer is certainly not the only way for a child to learn — there are plenty of traditional opportunities for your child to explore read, do math, and identify colors.

Computers are a part of our everyday lives, much like a television or a stove. While we may put limits on the number of hours or types of programming children watch or forbid them to use the stove, teaching children about these everyday appliances is an important part of preparing them to use technology in a responsible way.

Rather than denying your child any exposure to the computer, setting firm boundaries, supervising limited use, and modeling good behavior yourself will be the best way to introduce your child to computers and begin to cultivate healthy tech habits.

Cure curiosity. Your child will be curious, so let them take a look. Explain that the computer is a tool for learning and communicating. Show them how they can see messages from Grandma or learn about another part of the world. Let them carefully push the keys or move the mouse under supervision. Giving them a supervised look will help cure their curiosity.

Limit time. Families with new computers often become obsessed with the computer when the online world opens up. A computer should not disrupt regular family routines or cause parents to become too distracted. Try to limit the time you spend on the computer while you are with your child.

Avoid accidents. Keep the laptop closed and put in a safe place — out of sight and out of reach of children if possible.

Finally, it is perfectly fine to make the laptop off limits to children until you decide there is a value in allowing them to use it. School years will provide ample opportunity for children to explore computers and learn online.

Sharon Cindrich Miller is the author of E-Parenting: Keeping Up with Your Tech-Savvy Kids.

Plugged-in Parent

Tracking chores online

Q: I use the computer to keep track of my home budget and calendar. Are there any tools specifically for kids to help them keep track of chores and allowances?

 A: We often think of the computer in terms of fun when it comes to kids, however, there are great resources available to help kids be productive and organized. Printable charts are abundant online at sites like Not only can you print them for free whenever you need to, many can be customized to include the chores and jobs unique to your family.

 Several web-based programs help kids stay on track when it comes to homework and chores. is a free online program that allows parents to create task lists for kids, grade their chores, and earn rewards on and offline. Kids can earn points for the Handiland virtual world where they can dress their Cool Cat, watch cartoons, and play games. Points can also be earned for hygiene, healthy eating, and grades.

For kids 12 years and older, is an innovative online chore and allowance system. Parents set up chores and allocate a pay rate for each chore. Kids complete chores and earn the money — once approved by parents, cash can then be loaded onto a Target gift card. Money can be spent at Target stores or online at and are web-based programs that provide chore charts and allowance systems online. Fun graphics and printable charts make these good family options for a wide range of ages.

TV in the car: Breaking the habit

Q: We have a portable DVD player that we use on family car trips, but now every time we hit the road — even for a quick errand — the kids are scrambling to watch the tube. Any ideas on breaking this bad habit?

 A: Watching television in the car seems crazy, but many have found the benefits during long road trips making portable DVD players and built-in screens popular in many family vehicles.

 Pulling the plug completely is one way to curb your kids’ on-the-road view habits, but try these ideas before you click the “off” button.

 Set a time limits. Make a general rule that any trip under 30 minutes (or 30 miles) must be TV free. Let kids figure out mileage and approximate time of your errand route. For longer trips, require a two hour drive before popping in video entertainment.

 Make it a drive-in(g) movie. On longer trips, reserve movie watching for after hours. During the day, kids can enjoy the rolling scenery, but once the sun goes down, break out the popcorn, get kids snuggled in the back seat and pop in a little movie entertainment.

 Try audio books. A great way to keep kids entertained, audio books allow kids to keep their eyes on their surroundings but get lost in the story — even the driver can enjoy these, making it a family activity. Check these out from the library before your road trip.

 Tie in your destination. If you’re heading to the beach, look for educational DVDs about the ocean or beach life. Visiting a new state? Call the department of tourism and ask for a free promotional DVD on the area. Heading to Mt. Rushmore? Look for documentaries about historic sites you may see or different cultures kids can learn about on the way.

 Watch your own movies. Put kids to work on creating their own feature flick to watch on a trip. Suggest a tie in about your destination or have them film a puppet show. If you’re on vacation, let kids create a slideshow or documentary about their experience, and watch it on the way home, adding their own fun commentary.

Sharon Miller Cindrich is the author of E-Parenting: Keeping Up with Your Tech-Savvy Kids.