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Setting Your Children Up to Safely Navigate the Digital World

By: Tech Mamas

Today’s students are using all kinds of new technology in school to track grades, learn, communicate, and share. The result is that middle and high schoolers are the new wave of tech experts, and parents are worried about internet safety and their inability to manage their child’s access to technology. Adding to this parental challenge is an incredible talent by many kids to creatively circumvent the parental controls in software and networks. So how can Moms and Dads help their kids navigate the digital world? One clear answer is good old low-tech “communication”.

MY PERSONAL STORY:

My boys all excel in at school in their own individual ways. The technology they use in the classroom and at home has improved their ability to both access unlimited amounts of information and submit homework using productivity apps and online software. Typing their assignments and electronically interacting with the textbooks has streamlined their learning and polished their writing skills. Interactive homework where my kids can listen, watch and create online has also made academic work much more fun than writing by hand in a spiral-bound notebook...

We appreciate that these online tools are streamlining the learning process and making it more enjoyable. The downside is that they have constant access to the internet and a natural temptation to explore inappropriate material. Technology in the hands of kids is truly a double-edged sword. In response to this dilemma, we started communicating family technology rules with our kids at a very young age. Here are some of the rules that have helped communication with our kids stay strong over the years, especially as they become teenagers:

1. Parents must take the time to educate themselves first: I always describe the process of learning about digital safety as similar to using oxygen masks on airplanes—parents must put on their masks first to be able to help their children. My husband and I spent time learning about digital citizenship, including navigating the online world and the different types of social networking platforms. Even though I use social media for my business, I did not know about Snapchat until it was shown to me by one of my sons. My husband and I then took the time to use and understand that platform as well as many others. Social media platforms have safety and privacy settings and parents need to understand these settings and explain them to their kids. For example, Common Sense Media offers education as well as ratings by age, and platforms such as Google and Facebook have Family Safety Centers.

2. Set up family technology rules: We found that it was important to teach our kids at a young age that that using technology is an earned privilege, and they need to show they can be responsible and follow family rules. Some of the rules include times of the day for technology use, how technology can be used, parental review and approval before going to a new site/app, and learning what is appropriate and what is not appropriate for different ages. Common Sense Media can be helpful in setting up family rules because they have an age-based ratings system. We are lucky that our school also has a digital citizen training program for students, and parents can also access that information online to review with their kids at home. This will help them learn digital safety, demonstrate online respect toward others, and practice good digital citizenship.

3. Set up regular family technology talks: Set up regular times to talk to your kids about their use of technology, their friends’ digital habits and any questions they may have. I ask my teen to share the tech usage habits he witnesses in his friends. We also use this time to talk about his tech usage challenges. Because our kids know that being honest is the way they keep their freedom, they volunteer information and ask questions when needed. They also know that everyone makes mistakes, but that we are here to help them navigate a system that can be overwhelming.

4. Be digital role models: It is important that parents role model good digital behavior to kids and show them ways to interact online that bring value to their lives. For example, if kids want a specific type of dinner then they can look for recipes online and share with the parents and siblings. For families with makers, show your kids DIY websites and videos and ask them to suggest family projects. When one of my sons expressed an interest in learning Spanish, we investigated websites and apps to help him learn. Another son is obsessed with history, so we put together a history Flipboard to show him a positive way to curate and read information online. Kids who enjoy crafts can find unlimited projects on Pinterest.

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About the author:
Beth Blecherman, Techmamas

Beth Blecherman pivoted from Senior Manager, Deloitte, to a journalist and consultant covering lifestyle, tech, social media and growth marketing. Past articles included Laptop Magazine and Mashable. Her website TechMamas.com (Twitter @TechMama) was on lists such as Forbes Top 100 Websites for Women and AlwaysOn’s List of Power Players in Technology Business Media. Her speaking engagements included BlogHer, UC Berkeley Extension, 500 Startups, Draper University, CES and SXSW.