Keep Your Kids Safe Online With These Conversation Starters

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Screen time has already been a growing concern for most parents, and COVID-19 has only increased its prevalence. We worry about physical considerations like its effects on eyesight and posture and we have heard that blue light exposure is not great. But there are safety considerations as well.

June is Internet Safety Month and the Beau Biden Foundation recently published this list of 15 Apps That Law Enforcement Recommends Parents Know. Admittedly, when I looked at this list, I only recognized four.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children also has many resources that highlight internet safety available on its website. Many of the programming they offer was initially designed for teachers to lead in the classroom but they have done an amazing job to pivot and highlight the ways in which their content can be delivered in an e-learning environment.

I encourage you to spend time on both sites and learn all you can on internet safety. I also encourage you to have age-appropriate conversations with your children about all aspects of internet safety. Rules such as time limits, having the computer in a central location, and wi-fi off at a certain hour, are important, but addressing why we need to be safe on the internet matters too.

Consider using these sentence starters and questions as a way to begin the conversation, (taken from SCAN of Northern Virginia).

  1. “What technology/tools/apps do you know how to use?”
    The amount of technology—and access it provides to your kids—is astounding. And it changes every day. Do a regular check-in of your kids’ phones and gaming devices. Have them “show off ” what they can do.
  2. “Let’s check in on our security settings and passwords, OK?”
    Model safe behavior and reinforce the importance of privacy. Agree as a family to share all passwords in one place (excluding, of course, financial or other parent-only sites and tools.)
  3. “Have you seen anything online that’s made you uncomfortable or hurt your feelings?”
    This is an opportunity to listen (not to judge or yell). Cyber bullying is more common than you might think, and your kids should feel safe talking to you about it.
  4. “Can we talk? I’m uncomfortable with ______________ because _______________.”
    Rather than ban their use of Facebook, for example (which might result in secrecy or lying), explain why a certain photo or post is upsetting, whether its the use of foul language, an inappropriate image, location sharing, or something else. Kids should know they will be held accountable for behavior online just as they are at school and home.
  5. “I need a break from my phone/web/email. Will you go___________with me?”
    Take a walk together, eat a meal, get outside and spend quality time together as a family. Model how helpful it can be to take a break from screen time.
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Tracy
Tracy owns Safe Spaces, a consulting and training firm that focuses on building resilient families, communities and organizations (www.sfspcs.com). She is also an Authorized Facilitator and Certified Instructor with Darkness to Light, www.d2l.org, a child sexual abuse prevention organization. Tracy grew up in northeast Ohio, and has lived in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Arizona, and Northern Virginia and has worked in the arts, in education and child abuse prevention. Her husband's job brought them to the Bay Area and there's no looking back! Tracy is mom to a 15-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son. Self-care includes getting to know her new community, having lunch with friends, pedicures, reading, cooking, crafting, and just being with her family.

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