Internet safety is the top priority these days. Everywhere you look – people are on their electronic smart devices connecting with other people via chat, video, messaging, pictures. The ways are millions of choices. For those of us with children, we have an obligation and responsibility to give our kids an opportunity to learn their way around the online world in a safe and positive way.
With Lynette Owens, the leading expert on Internet Safety for Kids, let’s explore the ways we all could implement into our life where our children feel safe and grow up with the skills they need to live an ample life.
Today, there are over 37 million kids ages 3-17 that have access to the Internet in the U.S. This massive, and quickly increasing, number means that kids today are growing up much more experienced than their parents and caregivers – which makes it difficult to educate and shape rules around safe and responsible use of the Internet.
As a pro-technology mother of two who has spent countless hours with parents, teachers, and students around the country, I believe there are a few, basic but critical things we must do to help raise kids who can thrive in this Digital Age.
No. 1 Understand how your kids spend their time online.
Rule #1: be involved. There are now multiple, great resources and information available to help you help your kids. A quick search online will yield lots of useful sites. But none of these should supersede or replace the time you spend getting to know how your own kids are using the Internet.
Make sure you are having those conversations in the car, at the dinner table, or whenever you can. Ask them questions. What are their favorite apps? What sites are they using in school? What are their friends using and why?
Ask your child’s teachers what they’re using in school and why. Ask other parents how their kids are spending their time online. Once you know, try some of them yourself. Be in a position to understand their world so you can best guide them.
No. 2 Set rules and boundaries.
From how much time your kids can spend online to the specific sites they are allowed to access, parents should outline rules and boundaries for kids to follow. Additionally, parental controls and security software are great tools for parents to make sure said rules and boundaries are being followed.
For younger kids, limiting usage time, monitoring what websites kids are visiting and blocking age-inappropriate sites are just a few things that such tools can do.
For the older ones, talk to them about safe and responsible use, and that everything they do online adds up to a picture of who they are that the world can see. Make sure online time doesn’t interfere with outside time, homework, friendships, and sleep.
No. 3 Be the example.
So you’ve set the rules, but how do you enforce them? Consequences is one way. But a more effective one is to do as you say. If you don’t want them texting at the dinner table, don’t text at the dinner table. If you want them to be positive towards others, be a positive force towards others online.
Take the time to use social media, sites and apps so you understand the boundaries (or lack thereof) of privacy and share this knowledge with your kids. Ask others in front of your kids if it’s ok to post a photo that includes those other people. Don’t just tell them they need to be great online. Show them how.
No. 4 Encourage positive and productive uses.
It’s important to help our kids know and avoid any potential risks that come with using certain sites or apps, but it’s equally important to help them find positive uses for it, too. It’s critical for their own development but also for their futures. Go beyond telling them what NOT to do and guide them on ways they can use the Internet that could help them, others, or the world at large, too.
Encourage them to raise money for a cause through social media. Join them in support of someone else’s personal challenges by sending positive words online. Kids should build up examples of online activities that they DO want the world to see in addition to just spending time online to be entertained or sharing things within a closed circle of people.
No. 5 Create an open line of communication.
Even after you discuss rules, boundaries and responsible habits with your kids, it’s important to continue to check in with them to not only learn about what they’re seeing online and how they’re using the Internet, but to let them know that they can always come to you with questions and concerns.
And make it a habit of having the same discussions with teachers, parents and other people in your community. The world and technology are constantly changing, so keep the conversations going!
The Internet has brought so many wonderful things into our lives, things which have made every day activities more convenient to do, information quicker to find, and people easier to reach. It also represents new challenges to parents that generations of parents before have never faced.
If we want to help our kids be successful in the 21st century, we have to embrace the fact that the Internet is part of our lives and theirs, and we are the most important people to help them use it successfully.
If you’re interested in getting your kids involved in what it means to be great online, be sure to check out Trend Micro’s Internet Safety for Kids and Families Program “What’s Your Story” contest.
We’re asking kids to answer the question: “What Does the Internet Mean to You?” in the format of a video submission in hopes of learning first-hand from kids how they see the online world. It’s one of many ways they can start doing something positive online, for themselves and for others, and maybe even win a prize for doing it.
Lynette Owens is the founder and global director of Trend Micro’s Internet Safety for Kids and Families (ISKF) program. A mom of two school-aged children, Lynette established the ISKF program in 2008 to help extend the company’s vision of making a world safe for the exchange of digital information to the world’s youngest citizens. The program, active in 19 countries, helps kids, families, and schools become safe, responsible, and successful users of technology. Follow Lynette on Twitter @lynettetowens or read her blog: internetsafety.trendmicro.com