It’s 2019, and you just bought a long-desired brand new BMW. Your 12-year-old daughter needs a ride to dance class, and you don’t have time to take her. So you simply throw her the keys to your new car and say “drive safe”!
Who would ever do that?
We do something similar when we give our young kids smart devices with internet access, without preparing them for the responsibility that comes with it. It’s like giving them a new car (or essentially the world’s biggest microphone) at age 12… and expecting them to “know” how to effectively use it, or how to keep themselves and everyone else safe in the process.
When we think of “safety”, we think of simple things like wearing a hard hat, locking the door, or being wary of strangers. The internet is much different because so much can go so wrong, so fast. How can we navigate these new waters as parents raising children in an ever growing digital world?
To begin with, it’s important to understand that the internet is a VERY useful tool and not inherently bad. Yes, as with any tool, it’s useful when used correctly and quite dangerous when used incorrectly. Ever try to scratch an itch inside your nose with a power drill??? Didn’t think so. What matters most is that our children are trained, in incremental stages, on how to be safe while using these smart devices. The dark web exists, and ignoring it won’t make it go away. To keep it simple, I am going to discuss 5 simple rules to family safety online:
- Create contracts with your kids. In my example of the car above, we can agree that driver’s ed would be helpful in training a teen to drive a car. Likewise, a good contract, clearly defining age-appropriate technology usage and consequences, can be extremely helpful. As kids demonstrate responsible use of a smart device, you can increase the boundaries and adjust consequences. A contract signed by your kids also removes you from any “bad cop” role because they were the ones who signed it.
- There is no such thing as online privacy. It’s so easy to snap a selfie in front of your house, or car and post it without a second thought, but do you really know how much information is shown in those photos? Your house number, your license plate, street signs, landmarks, or even mail sitting on the counter? Did you know that photos also include metadata (invisible to you) showing exactly where the photo was taken, etc.? Be sure to turn off camera geolocation on all your family devices. Worse yet, anyone can upload a photo posted online which can be matched to satellite images through Google Earth. Whatever you share online, will always exist there.
- If you have kids online, you MUST be a parent online. We can’t simply bury our heads in the sand on this one. Tech isn’t going away. It’s IMMENSELY important that we be where our kids are. This means making an account on every social media platform that they are on and following them there. This doesn’t mean that you have to interact with them there because that could be… you know… embarrassing. It’s simply a way to keep an eye on what they are posting and sharing, who they are interacting with, and if they are being responsible.
- Remember the 3 P’s…your Parent, Pastor, or Principal: Although this might sound cliché, teach your kids that whatever they post needs to be appropriate for a parent, a pastor, or their principal to see. It’s that simple. Just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t make it’s OK. Often those quick reckless decisions may come back to haunt them later in life. Employers today are doing full social media deep-dives to find out who you are and what kind social/digital footprint you have left. Videos and pictures posted or retweeted years ago can circulate anew, even if deleted.
- Follow your own rules. This goes without saying. If you track your teens via their cell phones, to know where they are, mutually enable tracking on your phone so they can do the same. If you demand they not have their phones at the dinner table, don’t pull yours out, etc.
Overall, the internet is a complex and ever-evolving frontier, and we’re the trailblazers. We grew up in an analog world, expected to raise kids in a fully digital one. There is nothing easy about that, but if we take the time to truly think about the power (for good and bad) that that internet can have… only then we can establish the right training protocols to ensure our children learn how to efficiently and responsibly use it.
Just like we would never, EVER throw the keys to our brand new BMW to our 12 year-old daughter.
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