The following post is written by the team at the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI), who partners with leading Internet and communications companies across the globe to provide a unique perspective to the potential risks, harms, and rewards of our online lives. Their work informs public policy, industry best practices, and good digital parenting.
When it comes to keeping kids safe online, communication is key. It is important to talk with your kids early and often about the appropriate use of the Internet, apps and games they use, what to share and with whom. Most importantly, they should know how to react and respond appropriately when something bad happens online. If parents and caregivers create an open space where kids feel open to talking about the potential problems they may encounter online (like sextortion, grooming, or cyberbullying), it will help to build the resilience they need to navigate the Internet safely.
Cover the Basics
Be the one to introduce your kids to the internet — don’t let them learn about it through friends or by trial and error. While there is no hard and fast rule on when this should happen, 8 or 9 years old is considered to be an ideal age to allow kids basic Internet access.
Be a good digital role model. Get online with your kids and find websites that interest them that you can explore together. As in most areas of life, kids learn by example – so it’s important to model the same positive habits online that you are trying to teach them. Seeing the way you navigate the digital world will set the tone for safe behavior and opens the door for your kids to share positive and negative online experiences with you. If this open communication already exists, your kids will feel more at ease to turning to you to talk about it when online issues arise.
Set Ground Rules
When you give your child a new piece of technology, consider establishing some limits and guidelines with a resource like our Online Safety Cards.
Once the ground rules are clear, ask about which apps and social networks they are using. If you’re not familiar with any of the services, ask your kids to show you how they work. Find out what the apps do and who they are connecting with. If any of the platforms are problematic or you find that your child may be oversharing, take this moment to draw a line about the services they are allowed to use or not use. These rules may not always be appreciated, so don’t forget to explain why!
Monitor, Mentor, and Discuss Privacy
Investigate how to apply privacy and security settings on social sites along with your child. Learn how to use the site safety centers, and the blocking and reporting features on social media. There are also apps available to keep a watch on internet usage. However, keep in mind that it’s more effective not to do your spying in secret; let your kids know upfront that you’re letting them use certain sites based on your right to monitor.
The purchase of new devices provides the perfect opportunity for a conversation about safety practices, like never sharing passwords with friends and making sure profiles are always set to be private. Create specific rules about content uploading, viewing and viewer access. Without resorting to scare tactics, it is vital to cover the risks of uploading content and the ways in which it can be misused. Kids must understand the potential risks of these behaviors in order to understand why they must not do them. Help them understand who it is okay to interact with online by sitting with them and creating a list.
Address the Need for Good Digital Citizenship
Thoroughly explain to your kids the importance of cyberethics and set a clear expectation of how you expect them to interact online. Make sure they understand that the actions they take on social media have real life consequences, and that words from behind the screen are not any less hurtful. Ensure that they develop the right attitude before they are free to use the Internet without your intervention.
From a parental perspective, also remember that all kids make mistakes. They will be influenced by peers at school and what they see others doing. Missteps, pranks and poor judgment will occur. When this happens, don’t panic. Take the moment in stride as a lesson to be learned and help guide them as to how they can resolve the situation positively.
Keep the Conversation Going
Certain ages of kids will react differently to parental intervention. The privacy needs of a young child will be very different from those of a teenager. Only you as a parent can truly know what level of guidance your child needs at each age, but there are some key moments to guide the way. We recommend Three Teachable Moments, all common occasions in a young person’s life that can provide opportunities for continued conversations around safety — first phones, turning thirteen, and starting to drive.
Let’s face it, digital life and “real life” are now intertwined, and our kids will be using the Internet whether or not we always want them to. It’s best to meet them halfway – allow the transition gracefully, with a mutually respected set of rules focused on safety. The good news in the digital age is that, despite the natural worries of parents, all signs point to technology overall providing far more benefits to young people than harm.