In today’s climate of cyber bullying, Internet pornography and identity hacking, it’s a parent’s rightful duty to worry about their child’s safety online. Digital literacy requires a new sort of savviness that isn’t necessarily taught in schools, has no rulebook and may even be a foreign realm to well-meaning parents. There’s a fine line between protecting your child from virtual threats and overstepping privacy boundaries in formative years; you wouldn’t want to prevent your children from growing and developing in the digital age, but you also want to make sure they’re making good choices. Here are five tips to make sure your kid can reap the full benefits of the Internet without falling into any cyber holes.
Create an open forum for discussion. Teaching digital literacy to your children requires a careful balance of creating space for openness and respecting privacy. While monitoring your child’s activity may be appropriate, the most important lesson to teach is how to think critically about using the Internet when you’re not there. That means making it okay to talk with you about any issues they face. Respond to questions and comments with engagement in the issue rather than outright negativity. Leading kids to their own healthy conclusions is the best way to reinforce smart Internet usage. It’s okay if you’re still figuring it out yourself, too, but a critical mindset about Internet sharing is better than a lazy one.
Start early. It seems like most 2-year-olds know how to operate a smart phone these days, so consider digital literacy a necessary part of raising your kids, and the earlier you start the better. The Internet may seem like all fun and games to a child, but if you can pepper in lessons about appropriate behavior and what to look for in a virtual climate, they’ll be learning how to separate “good” information from “bad.” Teaching them early will secure you a spot as a legitimate resource when future questions arise.
Inform yourself of Internet trends and challenges. How can you teach your children to be safe if you’re not in the loop yourself? Internet awareness can vary widely among adults of all ages and demographics, so do your homework and learn about some of the most common threats your child might face on the Internet — phishing, sexual predators, hacking, bullying, hate speech, radicalization, etc. — and make a plan for how to address each one.
Keep your computer in a common area. If your kids share a family computer, make it accessible to them, but not so private that you can’t see what they’re doing. They’re less likely to run into trouble, wittingly or unwittingly, if an adult is on hand to help gauge the situation.
Friend and follow them. With the popularity of sites like Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram, it’s easy for anyone to post any sort of information online, even information that is dangerous or inappropriate. If you friend and follow your kids’ social media accounts, they’ll have to think, “Would I want my parents seeing this?” before pressing the “Send” button. If the answer is no, it probably shouldn’t be online in the first place.