Children are getting connected to the internet at a very early age. It’s a fascinating world where so much information and entertainment is right at your finger tips. But there are real, genuine dangers to the cyber world, and it’s important that children and teens understand the perils that exist.
In the National Cyber Security Alliance’s (NCSA) second annual Keeping Up With Generation App: NCSA Parent/Teen Online Safety Survey, “online teens reported that their parents are their primary source for learning about online safety and security.” This is a comforting thought for parents. Yet, 57 percent of the teens report having online accounts for social media platforms or apps that their parents don’t know about. It’s not unusual for teenagers to have aspects of their lives that they don’t share with their parents. What’s important is that they feel comfortable coming to parents for advice when something does happen.
Here are a few tips to help parents have that important conversation with their children regarding Tech Safety.
1) It’s Not the Tech – It’s How You Use It. The latest and greatest trend or app can be very exciting and enticing for anyone, but especially for young people. The same things that are great about the newest Smartphone (enhanced camera, live streaming, and greater storage) can also be access points for hackers and cyberbullies. Talk as a family about privacy settings, appropriate online behavior, and good safety habits.
2) Start Young. If a child is old enough to be interested in your phone, tablet, or computer, they are old enough to start talking to about being safe on line. Much like teaching them to cross the street or not to play with fire, providing guidance to their online participation is important to their understanding of safety online. Did you know that 92% of two-year-olds in the U.S. have an online presence? And that 80% of kids cannot tell if they are talking to a child or an adult posing as a child? These are the reasons it’s important to start teaching your children about being safe on the internet from the beginning. Keeping it conversational also makes them comfortable about talking to you about their online life and what they see, so you can continue to help them as they grow.
3) Set Rules Together – and be willing to change them. Setting rules and guidelines for children is important, but a laundry list of Do Not’s is not likely to be adhered to. As mentioned above, teens and children will sometimes wander where they shouldn’t without telling their parents. Creating a basic set of rules that everyone in the house needs to follow (i.e.: limiting using tablets and phones during dinner or family time, or getting family members permission before sharing photos or information) shows the rules aren’t to punish, but to support and guide them through the internet maze. As children grow and technology changes, be flexible to changing rules. Most important is to listen to them, and help them decide good rules and guidelines for themselves.
4) If It’s on the Net, It’s there Forever. It may seem like you can lead an anonymous life online, but the pictures and comments made never really go away. News stories are filled with images, texts, posts, emails and more that are made long ago but come back to haunt the person that posted them. These news stories are perfect opportunities to have a conversation with your children about protecting yourself online. An innocent comment can quickly become a meme or misunderstood and turn into a bullying situation. And, though children and teens don’t often think to the future, these negative posts can hurt them when it comes to scholarships, college applications, and jobs. Comments have consequences, whether you realize it or not.
Having the Tech Talk with your children shouldn’t become a battle ground or something to fear. It should be an opportunity for the whole family to learn about how to enjoy and travel the internet safely.
For more resources about talking to your children and teens about online safety you can look to a local library, like the New York Public Library, The Child Development Institute, or organizations such as NetSmart Teens, or Stop Think Connect.