Conversation Starters: Keep Your Kids Safe on the Road, at School, and Online

Making “safety” a priority for kids is about as exciting as watching the snow melt on a snow day. So how do we make safety a priority to a fun-loving, preoccupied tween or teen?

We make consistency the goal. We make digital safety as practical an expectation as brushing teeth and finishing homework. Just as you’d take away car privileges for reckless driving, much of the responsibility for getting digital safety information to sink in comes back to consistent parenting. That means the 360-degree commitment of communicating, setting expectations, and following through with consequences.

This month there’s a ton of digital chatter around bullying, distracted driving, and cybersecurity — and for a good reason. All three areas can wreak havoc on a family if ignored.

On the Road: Distracted Driving


  • Younger drivers under 20 years old have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes and are 4x more likely than adults to get into car crashes or near-crashes when talking or texting on a cell phone.
  • 11 teens die every day as a result of texting while driving.
  • Every day, over 800,000 vehicles are being driven by someone using a hand-held cell phone.
  • Texting while driving is 6x more likely to cause an accident than driving drunk.
  • According to an AAA poll, 94% of teen drivers acknowledge the dangers of texting and driving, but 35% admitted to doing it anyway.
  • Cell phone use while driving leads to 1.6 million crashes each year.

Practical Solutions: 

  • Avoid temptation. Place your cell phone in the glove box or trunk every time you get in your car.
  • Secure potential distractions before you get on the road. Clean your car and get rid of soda or water bottles or any other loose items that can roll under your feet while driving.
  • If driving, don’t allow kids to bring pets in the car.
  • Install an app that blocks calls while driving.
  • Discuss. Just because your state may not don’t ban drivers from using handheld devices, doesn’t mean your family can’t establish and enforce its own its own rules. Discuss expectations around phone use while driving and consequences. Talk about accidents in the community caused by distracted drivers, their impact, and what you can all learn.
  • Put it in writing. Develop your family contract that includes expectations and consequences. Get everyone to sign it — parents too!

Conversation Starters:

Phrase it well. Let’s face it, too often when underlying parental fear collides with teen defensiveness, a family “chat” quickly becomes a lecture, and things get awkward quick. One way to avoid this is to ask your teen questions that inspire critical thinking. So turn statements into questions such as:

“Hey, can I brainstorm with you about creating a family driving contract?”
“Let’s talk about this and see what we can come up with together.”
“What kind of consequence do you think is fair if someone breaks the contract?
“Here’s a time I did something stupid behind the wheel and learned from it . . .”
If in the car together, ask your child: “How many drivers can you count on cell phones right now . . . what are a few of the things you think could happen while they aren’t looking at the road?”

At School: Cybersecurity

October is also National Cybersecurity Month, and chances are, your kids are thinking about anything but what they need to do to keep these devices secure at school. Here’s what you need to know:


  • Kids adore their devices. According to a recent McAfee study, 86% of students spend at least one hour per day using an internet-connected device during school hours for school-specific work. And, 57% of students spend three or more hours per day using a connected device during school hours for school-specific work.
  • Kids use devices to cheat. Half of the students (47%) claim to have seen or heard of another student using a connected device in the classroom to cheat  – with 21% admitting to doing it themselves.
  • Kids blow off restrictions. Students are finding ways around school online security restrictions. Still, 24% of the students have leapfrogged restrictions and accessed banned content.

Practical Solutions:

Clarify the rules. Get a copy of the school/student technology contract. Go over the contract with your kids and clarify if
needed. Discuss the reasons schools put restrictions in place and why using phones and technology wisely at school matter. Does the contract spell out the terms of a ‘classroom device usage’ so there is no room for misunderstanding? Discuss things such as staying on task, being considerate of others’ privacy, and staying honest when using devices for in-classroom work.

Review the basics. Help kids understand the reality and risks to their private information online — which includes using technology at school correctly. Empower them — rather than scare your child — into becoming a savvy digital citizen wherever he or she logs on. This includes locking devices, choosing strong, two-factor authentication passwords, watching out for scams, software updates, and being responsible online.

Celebrate the wins. As you observe your child online, catch him or her being a digital leader and praise them. When she makes smart security decisions, is an encourager to others, reports a bully, or demonstrates she is using apps and networks wisely, make sure you recognize the effort.

Conversation Starters:

“What are some of the reasons you think your school puts restrictions on wifi and cell phones during school hours?”
“What kinds of things would you change about cell phone use at school if you could be principal for the day? Why?how would you treat students who used their phones to cheat?”
“Why do you think people cheat? What do you think you can gain by cheating? What do you think you can lose by cheating?”
“When people say your name, what are some of the values and things you want to be known for?”

Online: Bullying

With all the good that comes from the internet, there’s going to be conflict, meanness, embarrassment, and people who abuse their digital power. And like it or not, your child is going to brush elbows with a bully sooner or later — and it’s gonna hurt.


  • Almost one out of every four (22%) students have been cyberbullied
  • 44% are experiencing or seeing it before the 9th grade
  • Facebook (69%), Instagram (46%) and Snapchat (38%) are mostly used for cyberbullying.

Practical Solutions:

Be aware. Be on the lookout for changes in your child’s grades, mood, or friends.
Monitor devices. You don’t have to be a hawk to check in with your kids. If they are on twitter, lurk and listen to conversations there (don’t interact).
Coach them well. Often it’s the unfortunate misuse of a word or a small misunderstanding that blows up between kids online. Know how to coach them through (not control) the daily drama.
Talk values. Talk about the values that are important to you and your family: respect, kindness, integrity, and compassion.

Conversation Starters:

If you suspect your child is being bullied, has witnessed it, or may even be a bully, these prompts may help spark a more in-depth conversation:
“What do you think you can do to help turn this around? Is there anything I can do to help?”
“I sense something is off. Are you okay?”
“Wow, how scary that must have been; I’m glad you’re okay. What happened next?”
“I know it’s embarrassing to talk about, but I’ve been bullied, and this is how I felt . . .”
“What would you do differently next time?”
“What’s your plan to make sure this doesn’t happen again?”
“Who gets bullied or teased at school? Why?”
“How should someone handle it if they are bullied?”
“If you were XX and someone said or did that to you online, how would you feel?”
“If you are in trouble, I want you to know that you are not alone. Is there anything I can do to help?”


Stay positive about covering this vast digital terrain as a parent. You’ve got everything you need to raise awesome digital kids who know how to handle any digital situation be it while driving, at school, or in their online communities. It’s too easy to slip into parenting out of fear rather than a sense of faith in our kids and ourselves. This is why a good relationship is the #1 Internet safety tool a parent can possess. Connect with your children. Talk casually and frequently with your kids about what’s happening in their life, what’s up with school, friends, problems, and anything else important to them. Along the way, you’ll find out plenty about their online life and gain the necessary permission (and trust) to talk candidly and impactfully about all of these topics with your kids.


Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @McAfee_Family. (Disclosures).

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