The topics parents need to discuss with kids today can be tough compared to even a few years ago. The digital scams are getting more sophisticated and the social culture poses new, more inherent risks. Weekly, we have to breach very adult conversations with our kids. Significant conversations about sexting, bullying, online scams, identity fraud, hate speech, exclusion, and sextortion — all have to be covered but we have to do it in ways that matter to kids.
With 95% of teens now having access to a smartphone and 45% online ”almost constantly,” it’s clear we can’t monitor conversations, communities, and secret apps around the clock. So the task for parents is to move from a mindset of ”protect” to one of ”prepare” if we hope to get kids to take charge of their privacy and safety online.
Here are a few ideas on how to get these conversations to stick.
- Bring the headlines home. A quick search of your local or regional headlines should render some examples of kids who have risked and lost a lot more than they imagined online. Bringing the headlines closer to home — issues like reputation management, sex trafficking, kidnapping, sextortion, and bullying — can help your child personalize digital issues. Discussing these issues with honesty and openness can bring the reality home that these issues are real and not just things that happen to other people.
- Netflix and discuss. Hollywood has come a long way in the last decade in making films for tweens and teens that spotlight important digital issues. Watching movies together is an excellent opportunity to deepen understanding and spark conversation about critical issues such as cyberbullying, teen suicide, sextortion, catfishing, stalking, and examples of personal courage and empathy for others. Just a few of the movies include Cyberbully, 13 Reasons Why (watch with a parent), Eighth Grade, Searching, Bully, Disconnect. Character building movies: Dumplin’, Tall Girl, Wonder, Girl Rising, The Hate U Give, Mean Girls, and the Fat Boy Chronicles, among many others.
- Remove phones. Sometimes absence makes that heart grow appreciative, right? Owning a phone (or any device) isn’t a right. Phone ownership and internet access is a privilege and responsibility. So removing a child’s phone for a few days can be especially effective if your child isn’t listening or exercising wise habits online. One study drives this phone-dependency home. Last year researchers polled millennials who said they’d rather give up a finger than their smartphones. So, this tactic may prove to be quite effective.
- Define community. Getting kids to be self-motivated about digital safety and privacy may require a more in-depth discussion on what “community” means. The word is used often to describe social networks, but do we really know and trust people in our online “communities?” No. Ask your child what qualities he or she values in a friend and who they might include in a trusted community. By defining this, kids may become more aware of who they are letting in and what risks grow when our digital circles grow beyond trusted friends.
- Assume they are swiping right. Dating has changed dramatically for tweens and teens. Sure there are apps like MeetMe and Tinder that kids explore, but even more popular ways to meet a significant other are everyday social networks like Snapchat, WhatsApp, and Instagram, where kids can easily meet “friends of friends” and start “talking.” Study the pros and cons of these apps. Talk to your kids about them and stress the firm rule of never meeting with strangers.
- Stay curious. Stay interested. If you, as a parent, show little interest in online risks, then why should your child? By staying curious and current about social media, apps, video games, your kids will see that you care about — and can discuss — the digital pressures that surround them every day. Subscribe to useful family safety and parenting blogs and consider setting up Google Alerts around safety topics such as new apps, teens online, and online scams.
- Ask awesome questions. We know that lectures and micromanaging don’t work in the long run, so making the most of family conversations is critical. One way to do this is to ask open-ended questions such as “What did you learn from this?” “What do you like or dislike about this app?” “Have you ever felt unsafe online?” and “How do you handle uncomfortable or creepy encounters online?” You might be surprised at where the conversations can go and the insight you will gain.
Make adjustments to your digital parenting approach as needed. Some things will work, and others may fall flat. The important thing is to keep conversation a priority and find a rhythm that works for your family. And don’t stress: No one has all the answers, no one is a perfect parent. We are all learning a little more each day and doing the best we can to keep our families safe online.
Be Part of Something Big
October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month (NCSAM). Become part of the effort to make sure that our online lives are as safe and secure as possible. Use the hashtags #CyberAware, #BeCyberSafe, and #NCSAM to track the conversation in real-time.