What is it?
“What you don’t know won’t hurt you.” You don’t actually believe that when it comes to your kids and what they’re doing online. Yet, so many of us act as if we are in denial about the varied menu of dangers available on the Internet. If you are like most parents, you aren’t an Internet expert or even as skilled as your children might be online. That’s OK. In fact, it’s not necessary to be an expert in order for you to help your children enjoy the Internet safely. What you need to do is TALK to your kids about what they are doing on the Internet, and explain your family rules. And then repeat the talk every year, or as frequently as you deem necessary to get them to understand the importance of what you are sharing with them.
I’m going to give it to you straight: getting your children to tell you, with honesty, about their Internet experiences is difficult. One in five children worldwide admits that they are doing things on the Internet of which their parents wouldn’t approve. Still, 62 per cent of kids worldwide have already had a negative online experience—a number that jumps to 68 per cent in Canada (according to the Norton Online Family Report 2011: www.norton.com/nofreport). Your child may not be telling you without you asking—so it’s time to ask!
While half of all parents say they are talking to their kids about Internet safety, it’s usually a onetime effort that includes two pieces of advice: “People online aren’t always who they say they are” and “Stay away from online strangers.” Kids fear if they tell you about their online mistakes, parents will react by taking away their computer, their Internet connection, their access to their friends, and the rest of the world. They figure Mom and Dad just don’t “get it” when it comes to the online world.
So now that you know that your kids are willing to talk to you, and you realize you want to learn more about what they are doing, how do you begin? How do you create a conversational, non- confrontational discussion that is productive enough so that you can repeat the activity without your kids putting their hands over their ears and chanting ‘LALALA!’?
This new version of “The Talk”, is when you can talk with your children about their online activities and find out what it is they are up to in an interested, safety-driven way.
What questions are suitable?
There are five questions to focus on for “The Talk.” These questions should work with kids of all ages, though you’ll need to adjust the content to be age appropriate. Make sure to give your child space (both physical and time-wise) to provide you the answers to these questions. Personally, I love having these conversations with my daughter in the car (for some reason, when everyone is looking at the road ahead, it seems easier for kids to be more open with their parents).
1. What are your friends doing online? This question directs the attention away from your child and towards the general online activities in his/her crowd. It is a good way to start and keep things neutral and generic. You want your son or daughter to give you honest feedback and you must reassure them that you won’t punish them for their answers.
2. What are the coolest or newest websites? Ask your child to tell you why these sites are cool. You can also ask about the sites that aren’t popular anymore and why.
3. Can you show me your favourite sites? Yes, I want you to take 20 minutes out of your incredibly busy life to look at penguins sliding down a snowy hill or your child’s dreadlocked warrior avatar swinging a sword around. Ask how you set security or privacy settings (look at the top and bottom of the screen for those areas of the site). Maybe you’ll be tempted to play along and set up your own account. (If you do, be sure to let your child know). Ask your child how he or she uses the site and why these sites are favoured over other sites.
4. Have you heard of ‘cyberbullying’ and have you ever experienced it in any way online? Your child may not know “cyberbullying” by name but he or she knows what it looks and feels like. Talk about stories you’ve read or seen in the news, about nasty emails, embarrassing photos, or personal information that was shared or sent around to other kids. Make sure they know how to react when it does occur (they should not respond to any email or IM that contains the cyberbullying; they should try to save or print it so they can show someone; they should block it if they know how; and most important ALWAYS report it to Mom/Dad or another trusted adult.)
5. Has anything online ever made you feel weird, sad, scared, or uncomfortable? This is an opportunity to discuss cyberbullying, accidental browsing discoveries (such as porn or racist sites) or even something strange involving a friend or peer in the neighbourhood. The idea is to make sure your child knows they can come to you and they won’t be punished when something unusual or bad happens online. Experiencing something bad is almost inevitable when your child is active on the Internet. Make sure your child knows they can come to you for help and you won’t overreact.