The C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health found that parents rank INTERNET SAFETY as number 4 (up from 8th in 2014) for biggest child health concern and SEXTING as number 6 (up from 13th). You know why parents are getting so concerned? Because they need to be!
Let’s be honest here. Kids want Internet access like a crack addict wants a hit. And so do we! Screen media is our favorite past time. Those elegant screens clutched in our greedy hands feed us delicious content that we gobble up too many minutes of our day. Kids love it too. And parents are conflicted about what to do about that.
If we disallow it, our kids are dependent on us for entertainment. Keeping them happy and busy without screens is exhausting! Our parents chased us outside to run with the neighborhood kids. When we reminisce about being latch key kids, we tell stories of the eight shades of happy peril we were regularly in. We don’t want our kids in any shade of peril. We want them tucked in the safety of our homes. As a result, we have agreed to be in their constant servitude. Poor us. Poor them.
We do the best we can to keep them busy. Then we worry they’re too busy! What do we rely on when we’ve run out of ideas? Screen media! My daughter’s first love, besides her parents and her poodle Buster, was her purple stuffed Barney. I guiltily admit she was so sold on that annoying talking dinosaur she was a successfully branded consumer by toddlerhood. Every morning while I made breakfast she sat in front of the TV in her expertly branded Disney princess feety jammies and Mickey Mouse toddler chair. I allowed Disney to have that kind of influence on my kid, because I didn’t consider it that harmful and television gave me a moment’s peace. Parents today have even a bigger dilemma with so many screen devices.
Consumer branding is the least of our worries these days. The Internet offers amazing vistas for education, but parents have a tough time managing it effectively. In response to the sad outcomes to poor screen management I was seeing in private practice, I created parenting programs like the GetKidsInternetSafe Screen Safety Toolkit to help families avoid online dangers. I’m aware that parents want to dismiss the GetKidsInternetSafe (GKIS) message as sanctimonious hysteria. If I could forget what I know, believe me I would too. You know what we moms want to read? We want snarky articles about the pleasures of red wine and celebrity bashing and to avoid scary information that makes us feel guilty and scare the crap out of us.
So, admittedly, here I am delivering today’s informational kale salad with a bit of fun snark. And the good news? I’m not going to leave it at the scary stuff. Here are some parenting maneuvers you can do today to prevent tragedy and build your child’s resilience, hopefully avoiding a trip to the psychologist’s office down the line.
- If your child is allowed Internet access, ongoing dialogue for education and skill-building is a must.
I know this kind of sucks for us. It takes time to research what to talk about so we don’t blow our credibility stringing together sensational media headlines like our parents did about pot. We also risk annihilating their sense of safety telling them about online predators and risk.
But it doesn’t have to be an awkward or terrifying one-time lecture. Skill building is important for little kids to teens. It just takes targeted conversation and lots of listening. With an eye on the news and an occasional follow of a free online safety blog like GetKidsInternetSafe, you have the information you need to introduce topics into family conversation that are cooperative and positive rather than threatening and exaggerated. The best part is that every conversation builds that important parent-child connection.
How can you get a conversation started? It can go something like this, “Did you hear about the dad that cyberbullied the cyberbully yesterday? He got fed up with a kid harassing his daughter on Snapchat so he posted a video talking about the kid’s dad. Do you think he did the right thing?” You can even show the video. By avoiding shaming lectures and staying curious and positive, it will become evident that you are their go-to person and have their backs online as well as offline.
What topics should you cover? The same kind of social skills you talk to them about in their offline world. How about start with digital citizenship. Introduce how to respond to cyberbullying and, if they’re older, the risks of sextortion. Dialogue provides opportunity for education and skill building. It’s not enough to just introduce the issues, tell your kids details, like how to recognize the manipulative techniques online predators use to groom their victims. With this information your kids will be that much more resilient should a predator get through your controls.
Even easy cybersecurity strategies, like a post-it note over your computer’s camera lense, may cripple a Remote Access Trojan’s (RAT) ability to take over your computer’s camera. Beyond educating and skill building, there’s another thing parents need to do to get their kids Internet safe.
2. Install filtering and monitoring apps and software.
One day of installation can prevent months of online risk. If your kids are little, that means installing filtering tools like child-safe browsers and setting parental controls. If your kids are older, manage their use of social media apps and add monitoring software. Let them know you’re supervising their screen use, because lying and sneaking may harm the very connection that your dialogue has nurtured.
Although kids will initially complain about monitoring strategies, it’s not a mystery to anybody why parents need to parent online as well as offline. You may not be the über mom servant of their dreams, but we are all just doing the best we can, aren’t we?
I’d love to hear how your screen media strategies are faring on the GetKidsInternetSafe Facebook page. If you’d like more suggestions on staging your home for screen safety success, check out the GKIS Connected Family Online Course.
I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetYourKidsInternetSafe.
Onward to More Awesome Parenting,
Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty