In our modern world, parents need to know how to keep kids safe online. Moreover, there’s no doubt that any discussion surrounding Internet and online safety is a broad one and, even after covering so much ground in Parenting High-Tech Kids: The Ultimate Internet, Web, and Online Safety Guide,, we’ve only begun to scratch the potential surface here. Noting this, we’d like to offer you and your loved ones a starting point for future discussion that can help you uncover and explore the issues and ideas which matter most to your family.
“As parents, it’s important not just to talk about safety, but also teach kids about a broad range of concerns,” says Lynette Owens, director of Internet safety for kids and families at Trend Micro. Moreover, she suggests, it’s also vital to apply real-life thought to online activities and interactions. So think about the frameworks kids are using when they access, enjoy, and engage with technology and consumer electronics, Owens suggests. Consider what devices to allow and when it’s appropriate for children to use them. And don’t let discussion begin or end solely with a look at actual high-tech gadgets or innovations – use those as a foundation from which to also spark dialogue about healthy computing habits and being responsible digital citizens.
In fact, Trend Micro has created a dedicated guide for having what it calls “The Talk” – a discussion with kids about online safety, netiquette, and responsible behavior that’s every bit as crucial as any chat about the birds and bees. As the company points out in the volume, “you don’t need to be a technology genius to talk about things, people, and behaviors that are dangerous, but you do need to have a basic understanding of threat types and terminology.” Below, we’ve compiled a few further discussion points based on many of the concerns we’ve highlighted and recommendations we’ve made that may prove a helpful starting point when conducting your own conversations.
IMPORTANT QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR FAMILY
- What devices are we using to access the Internet?
- How and in what ways are we using this online access?
- What types of activities, sites and interactions do we like to engage with online?
- What websites and services do we frequent often and why?
- What are our house rules with regards to the use of high-tech devices and Internet connectivity?
- What punishments will be meted out should they be violated?
- What times are designated to be free of high-tech devices?
- What is our family’s password policy?
- Have we implemented parental controls and privacy restrictions?
- Will we be monitoring children’s online access? How so?
- What should we do if we encounter questionable and/or inappropriate content or behavior online?
- Do we understand the capabilities of all high-tech devices present in our home?
- Do we know where to turn if we have questions about any technology service or product, or need the help of a qualified professional?
- Is screen time an inherent right or earned privilege? How much will be allowed daily?
- What areas of the home are designated for high-tech use?
- What are our rules for appropriate high-tech usage?
- Are we aware of the basic safety rules that must be observed when using technology?
- Do we know what it means to be responsible digital citizens?
- Have we as a family made a running commitment to educate ourselves about new technology trends, topics, products and services?
- Do we all feel comfortable turning to each other for help if we have any questions?
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Youth’s Laurie Nathan says that’s above all else, it’s imperative that parents begin engaging kids in such conversations from a young age. Not only is it easy to have these conversations with younger children, but it also helps establish routine dialogue about these matters as a normal and regular part of household life. Parents should also engage children’s teachers and ask what it is that kids are doing and talking about at school, as teachers often bring a very unique perspective on kids’ development, and the types of concepts and subjects that currently interest them.
Cheerfully, there are also a number of great resources available online for families interested in continuing the discussion and formalizing online safety agreements. Case in point: NetSmartz’s website has a great set of pledges for both online and real-life situations, tailored for different age groups.
For parents, FOSI also offers a Family Safe Contract, a set of cyber do’s and don’ts for parents and kids alike, featuring a number of ground rules, such as the need to be honest with each other and parents agreeing not to overreact. Common Sense Media likewise offers Rules of the Road for Kids, which provide helpful insights like assuming everyone is watching your every action, and the importance of always applying the golden rule. Its website also provides great tips for parents, such as getting involved and striking a proper balance in terms of real-world and high-tech use. ConnectSafely.org additionally makes a number of tips on topics ranging from cyberbullying and sexting to password creation and video games available for ready access.
Marian Merritt of Norton additionally suggests a number of great conversational questions in her family safety guide that are geared towards younger kids, such as asking them about the coolest and newest websites, or finding out if anything online has ever made them feel sad or uncomfortable. She also includes topics to discuss with older children as well. Parents should also check out the Internet Safety 101 quiz from Enough is Enough too. This 10-question test is designed to see how cyber savvy you really are.
Beyond these initial resources, SafeKids.com also provides a test designed to let kids show that they know what it takes to be safe online. Microsoft additionally offers an incredible amount of information, presentations and brochures that are meant to be shared with others, and can provide great discussion tools for parents and school administrators as well.
In summary, it’s obvious that as your kids grow older, their interests and tastes will inevitably change. Maintaining ongoing and constructive dialogue will help everyone stay abreast of evolving concerns. But while creating open lines of communication about any and all technology-related issues is vital, it may be tough for some families to know where to start. Knowing this, with a tip of the hat to Anne Collier from ConnectSafely, we leave you with a few words from USC Professor Henry Jenkins on the subject.
“As a society, we have spent too much time focused on what media is doing to young people, and not enough time asking what young people are doing with media,” Jenkins says. “[As responsible adults,] we need to embrace a [safety] approach based on media ethics. Specifically, one that empowers young people to take greater responsibility for their own actions and holds them accountable for the choices they make as media producers and members of online communities.”
We sincerely wish you and your family the best as you begin to explore the digital world, and as you and your kids start to get connected, get plugged in, and get to work making connected devices and solutions just another perfectly positive, healthy and normal part of growing up in children’s lives.
To learn more about how to do so, you can also check out Parenting High-Tech Kids: The Ultimate Internet, Web, and Online Safety Guide.