A popular request I often get from parents is: “how do I talk to my kids about online safety?” When it comes to kids and teens navigating the web, inevitable mistakes will be made. Kids lack the impulse control for good judgment, meaning we have to be vigilant in our efforts to keep our children safe. Parents who get involved with their children’s online safety and citizenship early on are less likely to have teens who exhibit risky behaviors.
Although each family is different, here are some suggestions for talking to your kids about being more responsible online:
- Break the ice: open up a dialog with your child by talking to them about stories you’ve read or heard about in the news. There are numerous articles out there that you can use to educate yourself as a way to start a conversation.
- Assure your child they are not in trouble: you want to make sure your child feels comfortable talking to you about can be sensitive issues. Explain to them that you know they might make mistakes, but their safety is the most important thing to you.
- Let your child know what expected behavior may be: set ground rules for what you believe are responsible online habits or behaviors. Also give specific examples of what is okay or not okay. For example, emphasize that it is not okay to post embarrassing photos or videos of someone else, forward hurtful messages, or use inappropriate language that might offend others.
- Emphasize that technology is a privilege: explain that having a computer or smartphone is no different from the privilege of driving a car. When you get a driver’s license, it is because you have shown that you are mature enough to be able to handle the responsibility of driving a car. The same is true for the use of technology; if you can’t use it with respect and maturity, you will lose privileges.
- Don’t assume all rules are being followed: my kids are good kids but I know that sometimes they make mistakes or test the limits. This is normal behavior, and even “good” kids can think they are above the rules. As parents, we need to be vigilant about monitoring and stay aware of how our kids use technology.
- Keep a computer centrally located: when kids know you’re around and keeping tabs on them, they are less likely to exhibit risky behavior. Parental controls can’t do everything; we still have to monitor what our kids are doing on social networks.
- Ask questions: know the answers to questions like “Who are you talking to,” “How do you know this person,” “What are you talking about,” “How old is he or she,” “How often do you talk,” or “Do you also text or talk on the phone?”
In the real world, we want to know where our kids are going and who they’re spending time with. We may want to meet their parents, have phone numbers on hand or ask them what time they’ll be home. So why aren’t we asking similar questions when our kids are “spending time” with people online?
Take the time to talk to your kids about their social media use. Give them advice, but let them teach you things too. Kids need guidance, but they also relish the chance to teach mom or dad a little about technology. Let them get involved in this way, and it will make the process of online safety discussions more positive and more beneficial for both sides.