For many of us here in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, the kids are heading back to school this week and it's more important than ever to remember to talk to them about good online citizenship before they return to the classroom. Those of us with tweens and teenagers know that social media sites like Twitter, SnapChat (and more than enough others) are often favorite "hangouts" - during school, after school, and long into the night in many cases Here's a few helpful cyber safety hints on plotting out a good start to the new school year:
- Don't let social media rule your every second.
Model good online citizenship and lifestyle balance, yourself. And show your kids that THEY are some of the most important folks you want to interact with regularly. Having a "planned" best time of day that you might want to spend catching up on social media (and sticking to your plan) shows them you are in charge of your online time and not the other way around. Mine tends to be first thing in the morning, before everybody gets up and the house is quiet, and maybe browsing Facebook while I'm making dinner at night. The adults in the house typically keep our phones up on the charger in the kitchen every night before heading to bed. Every body who lives under our roof and doesn't pay a house payment is also required to do the same.
- Give kids a supportive environment.
Create an open and honest atmosphere with kids so they can feel comfortable coming to you, or a trusted adult, if they see something online that makes them feel uncomfortable. My teenager's group of friends moms and I are all great friends and I can't express how helpful in the development of their cyber "good sense" that has been. A few solid years' worth of stalking their phones and Twitter accounts has "seasoned" us a little bit so we don't balk at every tiny misstep or infraction as well. On the few occasions one of us moms picks up on something that seems like it could go really awry, we'll typically speak up discreetly to any concerned parties. It truly is a little village, as all the kids are (sometimes painfully) aware.
- Online credibility can be sketchy.
Emphasize the concept of credibility to kids: not everything they see their peers post online is true, and people on the Internet may not be the persona they create for themselves. That also goes for giving heed to any online "gossip" and attitudes that can lean toward undeserved maliciousness. I've always been of the camp who tends to not let hearsay or other people's opinions form a lot of my decisions about who people really are. I hope this is yet another way to encourage that quality in my kids as well.
- Password sharing, personal info & privacy
Teach your kids from the very beginning to keep their personal information private, including discouraging sharing passwords (even among their best friends). And with folks they don't know personally and directly, the names of family members, their school, and their telephone number and address are not up for discussion.
- The Passwords & Parental Right To Snoop rules
On the topic of knowing my kids' passwords, it is simple at our house. Our connected kids connect with devices we parents provide them. So they - along with everyone in the house - add their ALWAYS UPDATED passwords to a family list and are fully aware their device is subject to searches more thorough than the TSA! If passwords tend to keep changing with failure to update them on the family list and moms and dads have to waste precious time on numerous occasions chasing passwords down, or guessing from a myriad number of potential passwords, I find that a "password fine" (say, a buck every time for younger kids, $5 every time you have to chase down an older kid to find out an updated password) works wonders if you struggle with this on a regular basis.
- What people say (or do) online IS actually carved in stone.
Mom used to say, "Don't write it down if you don't want your grandma to get wind of it!" - and, unfortunately for some folks (and their grandmas), she was right! Encourage kids to think twice before they post or say anything online that is not true, helpful, and/or productive. Once it is in cyberspace, it is out there forever and Granny, Mom, Dad - or a teacher or girlfriend's or boyfriend's parents - might happen upon it.
As with everything "parenting", you may want to take what works for you and toss out the rest. In any case, I hope you find these suggestions helpful in creating a better, safer online atmosphere for your child this school year.