Winter Break: Keeping Youth Safe Online and Off

Today's blog was written by Dr. Kim Gulbrandson, a school psychologist at Milwaukee Public Schools.

Youth are often left with a lot of unstructured time on holiday breaks. During these times, they may be more at risk for engaging in unsafe behaviors because they may be bored, unsupervised, and looking for things to do. We can help by providing youth and parents suggestions and resources for positive winter break activities, both online and off. Here are some activities that youth can do alone or with parents. Several can incorporate academic and social-emotional skills.

Create a craft project:

To encourage empathy, perspective taking, and generosity:

  • Shovel someone’s sidewalk.
  • Go through toys and books and give some away to a needy family.
  • Volunteer to babysit for someone.
  • Offer to help a charity, such as serving food to the homeless

To hone math skills and encourage perspective taking, bake cookies and bring them to a neighbor or nursing home. To practice skills for playing fair, taking turns, and dealing with losing, make an indoor obstacle course. To foster observational skills, attend the free days at your local museums.

Winter break also creates potential increased unsupervised online use. You can help by giving youth and parents reminders about safer social networking and responsible internet use:

  • Only accept friends whom you know face-to-face.
  • Recognize that others have cameras too, so they can take and post pictures without your knowledge.
  • Don’t discuss things you wouldn’t want parents, teachers, employers, the police or your worst enemy to know about.
  • Don’t need to post personal contact information online: your friends know how to find you.
  • Protect your personal information (address, phone, etc.) and passwords.
  • Remember, there is a real person on the other end of the keyboard.
  • Help others who are bullied or cyberbullied.

Lastly, you can provide parents and youth resources about safer online use. OnGuardOnline.gov is a federal government Web site that offers free online tools and brochures to help people be safe, secure, and responsible online.

Enjoy your break!