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For our kids, using technology is like brushing their teeth -- they do it a few times a day; it's just part of their daily routine.
They love to play games, watch videos, stay in touch with friends & family and keep up with all the latest internet fads.
But what are they REALLY doing when they're online?
With a teen and tween at our house, this is a topic that's constantly discussed in our home.
I consider myself a pretty involved parent but I want to balance how much I monitor my kids' tech behavior with being able to teach them good online skills so they can 'police' themselves. So I was really happy when I was asked to tour and read the Boys & Girls Clubs of America Cyber Safe Futures website!
Keeping Kids Safe Online
First, let me tell you a little about what we believe and do to encourage cyber safety in our house.
We talk about what the kids are doing and seeing ALL THE TIME.
If they are playing a game, we ask about it. "Do other friends in school play too?" "What's your screen name?" "How do you win?"
If they are texting a friend, we ask about how the friend is doing or what class they are in together.
The idea is to keep an open line of communication and for them to EXPECT that we will ask questions about their online activities.
We also have an 'open screen' policy: all computers are used in the house with the doors open and anyone should be albe to read/look at your screen (computer,phone or iPad) at any time. That goes for us adults too because it's important that we model those behaviors for the kids. (If there's ever something we want to show other adults, we wait until the kids are in bed.)
And when they are old enough to understand, we use the 'Grandmother' reference: Do NOT post/send/share anything on your phone unless it's something you think your Grandmother could read/see. Most teens will get this right off the bat -- it's the idea that if they are too embarassed to share it with Grandma, it probably should be deleted.
So I took the CyberSmart Parent Quiz on the website to see how we were doing on the subject.
The results -- pretty good but we could do a few things differently.
Resources that Help You Kick-Start a Discussion
The Cyber Safe website has some really helpful resources for parents! I like the scenerios the website offers in their Resources area and I found myself really thinking about a few of them and how I would react. I also talked to my tween and teen about a few of the scenerios and asked how they would respond (THAT was an interesting and eye-opening conversation!)
The guide discusses tracking techniques so you can see where your child is spending their time online. There’s a great section on Filtering & Parental Controls – we can ALL use these tips with younger kids being so active on our iPads and phones! And they’ve also included some very helpful tips on teaching kids to be good digital citizens (use technology for good and not evil so to say).
The site also offers some very informative printable posters that summarize the key ideas for online safety for each age group (younger kids, tweens and teens).
The printable poster for tweens is perfect for us – I think it’s so hard to talk to this group because they take everything for face value at this age and really want to be seen as ‘older’. The poster helps me to know what key messages I should be discussing with her.
Teaching Healthy Online Behaviors
As parents, it's important that we help our kids to develop healthy online habits so we know that they will have the smarts & skills to keep themselves safe.
Be sure to talk to your kids about using cell phones “the right way” – no crazy photos of themselves or their friends, nothing that would embarrass anyone or parents upset, don’t use them in class, during mealtime or IN PLACE of a real discussion with someone.
I’ve told my kids a thousand times, being on the phone is no different than talking to someone face-to-face. You should give them your full attention and give them the respect you would if there were standing right in front of you.
And look for signs too – if your child is always on their cell phone and then one day, doesn’t want to use it at all – ask them if something happened. And ask their friends or parents of their friends if they won’t talk to you directly.
Do you have questions about cyberbulling and cybersafety? Ask the Teen Panel!
Have a question about online safety? You can submit your question to the weekly teen CyberTribe Q&A which is supported through a partnership with Sprint.
And if you do send in a question, you have a chance to win an iPad Mini and $500 for the Boys & Girls Club in your area (I'm sure there's something you want to know, right?!)
How do you approach the topic of cyber safety in your home?