Trust Under Fire: How to Help Your Kids Understand Trust in a Digital World

trust online

Just about everything comes down to trust, especially in a hyper-connected, share-happy digital culture.

We pay strangers to Uber us, we Airbnb our vacations, we eBay our purchases, Venmo money to friends, and eHarmony our soul mates. It’s efficient, brilliant, and dicey all at the same time.

This social landscape presents parents with a mound of contradictions to sort through. With connectivity comes risk and with risk comes understanding where to place our priceless, fragile emotion called trust.

We’ve had to recalibrate our trust meters to keep pace with technology. We now have to vet digital sources for fake news. Community referrals and online reviews influence where we drop our cash. We’re suspect of “friend” requests, emails, and web links. Oh, and that unknown phone number that just popped up? Yeah, like that’s gonna ever happen.

So how do we build trust in an often faceless, ever-expanding online world? More pressing, how do we help our kids understand the weight of trust and the huge impact it has on daily life?

trust onlineTrust Defined

Webster’s definition of trust is a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.

For kids, we might explain it like this: Trust is priceless. It is earned not instantly given. People prove they can be trusted not by what they say but by what they consistently do over time.

Trust Under Fire

The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals that trust is in crisis around the world. Interviewing over 33,000 respondents in 28 countries, the study found less than 50 percent of respondents trust business, government, media, government, and NGOs to “do what is right.”

A recent Common Sense Media survey doesn’t seem to do much to boost trust among the next generation either. The study revealed that 31 percent of kids aged 10 to 18 shared a news story online they later found out were wrong or inaccurate, while only 44 percent said they could tell a fake news story from a real one.

The Anatomy of Trust

Experts agree that the best way to teach our kids about trust is to understand what it is, live it, and require it of others. Those “others” in the online world include online “friends,” brands, websites, news sources, advertisers, and anyone else knocking on our digital doors.

Author and trust expert Brene Brown says in her book, Rising Strong, we can understand trust by breaking it down into a 7-element acronym she calls B.R.A.V.I.N.G.

B – Boundaries. You respect my boundaries, and when you are not clear about what’s OK and what’s not OK, you online You are willing to say no.

R – Reliability. You do what you say you’ll do. You don’t over-promise and can deliver on commitments and balance priorities.

A – Accountability.  You own your mistakes, apologize, and make amends.

V – Vault. You don’t share information or experiences that are not yours to share. I need to know that my confidences are kept and that you are not sharing with me information about other people that should be confidential.

I – Integrity.  You choose courage over comfort. You choose what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy. And you choose to practice your values rather than simply professing them.

N – Non-judgment.  I can ask for what I need, and you can ask for what you need. We can talk about how we feel without judgment.

G – Generosity. You extend the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions, words, and actions of others.

Family Talking Points

  1. Trust in action. Want to help your kids understand trust? Be trustworthy. Keep your word, show up, be reliable, and reflect the B.R.A.V.I.N.G. principals in your life. Point out people you trust and why you trust them as well as everyday opportunities to build trust with others.
  2. Share your mistakes. Be brave. Talk about your mistakes. Be honest about times you’ve misplaced your trust, were betrayed, scammed, or made a poor digital decision that cost you somehow. Admitting your faults, when applicable, is a powerful way to build trust with your child. Trust increases when you don’t blame others, have to be right, and can learn from a online
  3. Relationship trust. When you see B.R.A.V.I.N.G. qualities in your child’s friends, point them out. Affirm their decisions in friends and have the foresight to bring up red flags. When kids understand and experience trust in everyday life, they will be able to spot trust risks online.
  4. Brand and product trust. Trust is established over time through a chain of successful experiences. This truth also applies to companies doing business online. Discuss the expectation of trust that applies to websites, brands, and purchasing hubs. What makes this product or brand trustworthy? What information exists online (reviews, news stories) that might impact that trust? How do we know we can trust the promise of this company, website, advertisement or special offer?
  5. Media trust. With the surge in fake news online, teaching kids to be media savvy is a priority for both parents and educators. Talk about the agenda behind people who generate fake news and why it’s harmful to pass along incorrect information. Build a list of trusted news, research, and entertainment sources your family can consume and share with confidence. Learn more: McAfee’s 10 Quick Ways to Spot Fake News Online, News Media Literacy video from Common Sense Media.
  6. Cyber trust traps. Extending trust is precious. Unfortunately, there are devious people online determined to win and exploit that trust. Chances are your kids will eventually come across some of these people. These crooks can be anyone from a hacker to a catfish to an identity thief to a predator to a con artist to a bogus purchasing portal. The more your family understands, values, and discusses trust and its power, the more criminals and situations will stand out online. Be blunt about the trust traps online and how to safeguard against them.




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

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