This post was created in partnership with Lifelock.
If you have a human child of almost any age, you are likely worried about their activity online. When they’re little, it’s about limiting screen time, but as they get older and jump on the internet, things get dicey: Are they sharing things they shouldn’t? Are they being cyberbullied? Are they safe from predators? Is porn or profanity or violence lurking behind the next click?
If there’s a mom or dad who feels like they’re doing a good job in this department, I haven’t met them, and yet according to a recent study conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of Lifelock, nearly 1 in 10 parents say they have never talked to their kids about online safety. Not once. And for kids on social media, the stats aren’t much better— 14% say they only talk to their kids about social media habits once a year… or less.
No judgement, by the way. I include myself among parents who feel like they’re failing when it comes to educating their kids about the perils of online life, even though I do regularly chat with my kids, Annie (12) and Spencer (16), about the rules, boundaries and consequences of online behaviors. In fact, I think that talking to your kids about all this is the most important way to stay connected, stay involved and informed about what’s going on in their online lives.
Tell us what it’s like to grow up with technology?
I regularly take the attitude, “I didn’t have all this stuff when I was little— tell me what it’s like to grow up with it!” Not to pander, but to give them the floor, to make myself vulnerable, to give them the chance to teach me what they’re dealing with— and the results have been shocking. I’ve heard about a classmate who has steered my fourth grader to a porn site, and a minor-yet-legit cyberbullying incident was uncovered. My teenage son has shared the pressures he feels looking at Instagrammed events he wasn’t invited to, and his internal struggle with who to be on Twitter: Polite/kind/uninteresting, or snarky/mean/funny (which gets more likes). Making myself available for these talks has helped us stay close through this time I like to call “online training wheels”… they get to experiment with the internet in age-appropriate ways, and I keep a sharp eye out for trouble.
So what if you’re down for having these regular talks with your kids, but you haven’t the foggiest idea what to talk about? That’s where a powerful tool called The Smart Talk comes in. Co-created by Lifelock and National PTA, it’s your new interactive rulebook and playbook for how to talk with your kids about online safety. Sit down with your kids, choose a juicy topic like “Safety & Privacy”, “Apps & Downloads” or “Social Media & Respect” then move through a series of questions. At the end you create your own agreement about the rules and guidelines you’ve discussed along the way, then memorialize your talk by printing it up and taping it to the fridge, or wherever it won’t fade away.
Software’s a good start
Roughly a third of parents in the survey are using a third-party program to monitor their child’s digital activities, and 58% says they check or set the privacy settings on their child’s phone, social media accounts and apps. And that’s a great start— content filtering is critical for small and big kids alike, and keeping their identities private in apps ensures they can’t be tracked.
Using software, however, should be only part of the defensive game plan. Primarily because it’s not bulletproof. I’ve seen many a website with questionable content slide through a filter, though the majority of them work nicely. Supervision of internet activity is still critical, especially at a young age, in case the wall you’ve built gets compromised. Also, the filters you set up only work on your devices (obviously!) and since by the time kids are 12 many of their classmates have phones of their own, a friend’s device will serve up a buffet of unfiltered content.
Alarmingly, 89% of parents in the LifeLock survey say they trust their child uses the internet responsibly. I know all our children are special angels and everything, but let’s just put that aside for just a minute. Our kids simply can’t, even with the best intentions, use the internet responsibly, for the same reason I suck at chess: They just can’t see that many moves ahead. Their brains aren’t developed enough to know what effect their actions today might cause tomorrow. And (hopefully) they just can’t fully comprehend some of the evils in the world that lurk behind clicks and chats. It’s that simple— we can’t leave this to chance, and hope, and crossing fingers.
Sooo… what are we talking about?
The Smart Talk covers the following topics:
Safety & Privacy
How to protect your kid’s privacy, how to help them not overshare on social media, and set up privacy settings.
This topic prompted a giant discussion with it’s very first question. Since most social media sites require you to be 13 years or older before you join, we debated the severity of lying about your age (pretty much everyone they knew had joined at least one social network before age 13). We also researched the COPPA (Childhood Online Privacy Protection Act) and wondered why 13 would be the cut-off since 14 year olds are still “kids”. Fascinating to hear their perspectives.
How much is OK, how to get kids to put down their devices, and what to do if screen time starts to border on addiction.
Here’s where we created some screen time boundaries, and discussed the pros (it’s an alarm clock!) and cons (it’s tempting to scroll feeds) of having your phone on your bedside table. Some of their friends use their phones well into the night, and they see texts from the wee hours when they turn their phones on in the morning. We talked about good sleep hygiene.
Social Media & Respect
Social media basics, avoiding digital drama, cyberbullying prevention, and when a good time is to join Facebook and other social networks.
No shocker here— we talked about how hard it is to see friends getting together without you on Instagram… and I let them know that adults sometimes feel the same way. We all agreed we’d be more sensitive to what we post, because we didn’t want anyone to feel the same way we did (left out). We also talked about Twitter, and how the discourse there is full of mean, hateful people. They agreed to let me know if we saw someone being bullied online, or to reach out if someone was bullying them.
Apps & Downloads
In-App purchase 101, which apps are great for education, how to find appropriate video games.
Here we talked a lot about profanity, and how tough it is to find content that isn’t X rated, whether it’s video games or movies or music. My kids love rap and hard rock, but they could do without all the explicit sexual content. We also agreed to set limits on how many apps and in-app purchases my kids could buy each month.
Texting & Calling
Healthy communication habits, avoiding problematic phone use.
This one was pretty simple. I’m lucky that neither of my kids calling and texting habits are out of control, but there were simple checklists here to help set limits on the number of texts set per day. Without software to monitor this, I don’t know how you’d enforce these rules, but it was another opportunity to discuss where it is and isn’t appropriate to be on your phone.
Going through The Smart Talk with my kids, there were a handful of things I realized I had never spoken with them about. And when you go through it together, so many things come up— social pressures, confusion… and it’s a safe place to air questions and get answers. You’re being walked through a healthy checklist of great topics of discussion— this is a no-brainer Thursday evening or Sunday morning activity that I can see our family returning to again and again, as the kids get older and conversations about this stuff take on a different tone.
Kind of like that “other” talk parents dread having with their kids— It’s dangerous to avoid, it’s easy to do when you have a little professional guidance, and it feels so much better when it’s over!