If you talk to your kids about online safety, they'll listen

Dec 16, 2011 12:03pm

By Emily Eckland, NCSA Managing Editor of Digital Media

On any given day, parents are telling their teenagers to clean their room, do their homework, put their dirty dishes in the sink and to use good judgment when going online. 

Well, maybe not the last part.

But they should.

Your teen may be tuning you out when you politely remind (read: nag) them about making their bed for the fourth time that hour.

But as it turns out, they will listen if you talk to them about good online practices.

Parents are the most often cited source of advice and the biggest influence on teens’ understanding of appropriate and inappropriate digital behavior, according to a new report on teens and social network sites from the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

In fact, 93% of parents surveyed say they’ve talked with their children about ways to use the Internet safely.

Amanda Lenhart, senior research specialist at the Pew Internet & American Life Project, says if you talk to your kids, they’ll listen.

“A lot of parents say they’ve talked to kids about ways to use the Internet safely,” Lenhart says. “Kids themselves also agreed that parents are having these conversations. Kids remember the conversations and are willing to acknowledge and talk about the fact that they had those conversations.”

Of the teens surveyed, 85% said their parents had spoken to them about good online safety habits.

If you’re planning to speak with your children, here are some tips from the National Cyber Security Alliance’s K-12 Working Group:

  • Remain positively engaged: Pay attention to and know the online environments your children use. Surf the Internet with them. Appreciate your children’s participation in their online communities and show interest in their friends. Try to react constructively when they encounter inappropriate material. Make it a teachable moment.
  • Teach critical thinking: Help your children identify safe, credible Web sites and other digital content, and be cautious about clicking on, downloading, posting, and uploading content.
  • Explain the implications: Help your children understand the public nature of the Internet and its risks as well as benefits. Be sure they know that any digital info they share, such as emails, photos, or videos, can easily be copied and pasted elsewhere, and is almost impossible to take back. Things that could damage their reputation, friendships, or future prospects should not be shared electronically.
  • Support their good choices: Expand your children’s online experience and their autonomy when developmentally appropriate, as they demonstrate competence in safe and secure online behavior and good decision making.
  • Help them be good digital citizens. Remind your children to be good “digital friends” by respecting personal information of friends and family and not sharing anything about others that is potentially embarrassing or hurtful.
  • Empower your children to handle problems, such as bullying, unwanted contact, or hurtful comments. Work with them on strategies for when problems arise, such as talking to a trusted adult, not retaliating, calmly talking with the person, blocking the person, or filing a complaint. Agree on steps to take if the strategy fails.

Once the conversation is over, many parents – 54% to be exact - choose to monitor their teens’ online activities and 77% of parents check the websites their child has visited.

“Parents are checking to see what information is available online about kids through search engines.  They’re checking their profiles, and the browsing history on computers,” Lenhart says. 

If you decide to monitor your child’s online activities, here are some suggestions:

  • Review the privacy settings of social network sites, cell phones, and other social tools your children use. Decide together which settings provide the appropriate amount of protection for each child.
  • Know the protection features of the Web sites and software your children use. Your Internet service provider (ISP) may have tools to help you manage young children’s online experience (e.g., selecting approved Web sites, monitoring the amount of time they spend online, or limiting the people who can contact them) and may have other security features, such as pop-up blockers.
  • Talk to other parents. When and how you decide to let your children use the Internet is a personal parenting decision. Knowing what other parents are thinking and allowing their children to do is important and can be helpful for making decisions about what your children do online.
  • Know the rules. Not all online services are for kids. Even some of the most popular social networking services and other sites are meant to only for use by people 13 and older. There are many terrific sites designed specifically for younger children that provide a safer, more secure and age-appropriate environment.

And while your teenager may not be asking you for fashion tips, chances are they will approach you if they need help dealing with a negative online experience.

“About one-third of teens told us they go to their parents,” Lenhart says. “Parents are a primary source of information for advice.”

Even in today’s digital age, the old adage rings true: it takes a village to raise a child.

“Teachers and school staff also play an important role. Even though parents are predominately the main source of information, it’s really throughout the community and the people in their community who they are getting this information from,” Lenhart says.

To read the full “Teens, kindness and cruelty on social network sites” report, visit: http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2011/Teens-and-social-media.aspx