Tech Tips: Prep your students to get back to school

A new school year means new computers, new software, and new tech support questions. Here’s how to keep things running smoothly.

First, I suggest giving school computers an overhaul. If it’s a school-issued laptop, check that the screen and keyboard are working properly. Test batteries and chargers, and request replacements for any faulty equipment. Schools typically maintain their own antivirus software and security measures, so all you need to do is make sure they’re active.

If you own your own laptop, you’ll need to do the same inspection of screen, keyboard, batteries and chargers. You’ll also need to check your security software. Don’t rely on the built-in antivirus software for Windows and Mac. Viruses have been known to sneak through these basic defaults, so you’ll want a stronger third-party program. Update your system software and apps so that all software is as current as possible.

Don’t forget printers! Most printers have a feature that cleans the print heads and paper path. If text is blurry, try the printer’s realignment function.

Once you’ve evaluated school computers, it’s time to double-check your network. Test for dead spots on your wireless network, and either move your router or adjust your settings to compensate. Old routers tend to be more susceptible to interference, so if you’re having trouble, you might want to consider upgrading to a new router. Newer routers also have better anti-malware features and can handle the simultaneous needs of streaming students and working parents.

Have your student log into their school account to make sure they can access it. Any problems should be reported to your school’s IT department. This is a great time to teach your kids how to create strong passwords. While your school should provide guidelines on their specific password requirements, in general, you’ll want to use a long passphrase (12 characters or more) that contains a mix of upper- and lowercase letters plus numbers and symbols. It’s much easier to use random password generators such as those on the LastPass and 1Password websites than try to create one from scratch.

Internet safety is a concern at any time of year. Keep your kids safe by using your router’s security features and enabling parental controls on home computers. Again, school-issued computers typically come with these protections already enabled. You can ask your school’s IT department to find out the specific options available to you.

Finally, don’t forget to review your family internet rules with your kids. But this should be a conversation, not a lecture. Approach it from a place of calm understanding. Tell them that they should never be afraid to tell an adult if they see something online that makes them uncomfortable. Remind them not to reveal their real names, addresses or other personal information. Obviously, an internet safety conversation is different with a 6-year-old than a 16-year-old. If you’re not sure where to start, you’ll find guides arranged by age group on the Safekids.com site and similar resources on my Simple Tech Tips blog.

• Triona Guidry is a freelance writer and consumer technology specialist offering tech support and advice for home computer users. For free weekly tips and news by email, subscribe to her Simple Tech Tips blog at www.lightningtechsupport.com/subscribe.