As parents, it’s our job to guide kids toward making good decisions—and that doesn’t stop when they’re behind a phone, tablet, or laptop. So as soon as kids have unsupervised access to the internet, it’s time to start the conversation about being safe online.
Online safety goes beyond digital security measures like parental locks—since we spend so much time online these days, it’s actually about kindness, respect, and how we conduct ourselves in the world. Here are some points to help you get started, along with ways to make the discussion interactive so that you know your kids, tweens, or teens are getting something out of it and feel comfortable participating in the conversation.
Don’t give out personal info
“If someone asks for your address, phone number, or other personal info, just say no. Even if you think it’s a legit request, ask me first and we can decide together.”
Make a list together of types of personal info not to give out, like their phone number, birthday, passwords, or where they go to school—and ask them why each one could be risky. Come up with a few tricky scenarios, like if someone says they want your address to send you a gift.
Images are forever
“If someone you don’t know well asks you for a picture, don’t send one. If someone you DO know asks for a picture, think about whether it’s something you’d want your classmates, principal, and grandparents to see.”
Talk about how images are permanent once they’re online, because other people can screenshot them, share them, and use them however they want. Have your kid come up with a few examples of what types of pictures would not be appropriate to post on social media, and what types of pictures would not be appropriate to text to a friend, even if they’ve requested them.
Online actions have real consequences
“If you’re not saying something kind or thoughtful online, just don’t say anything.”
Ask your kid how they’ve felt when receiving an unkind comment, and discuss how a future employer, mentor, or friend might judge their words or actions online. Just because they’re behind a screen—or maybe even an anonymous username—doesn’t mean their actions don’t have real consequences that affect real people.
“Never use other people’s pictures or info online without their consent.”
Consent is not just about physical interactions—it applies to online interactions too, and you can begin by asking your own kids’ permission to post photos and videos of them. Ask them for examples they’ve heard about where people have misused others’ content, and why they think those actions were unfair or disrespectful. Keep in mind that boys and girls need to be aware of online bullying and rumor-spreading and the damage it can do.
“If you see anything disturbing or you realize you’ve made a mistake online, you can tell me and I promise not to judge you or get mad. I’m just here to support you.”
Then make sure you do your best to uphold that promise, because it’ll help kids and teens feel comfortable being open with you when issues do arise. Most kids don’t tell adults about cyberbullying, for example, because they are afraid they’ll lose phone or computer privileges. A more productive and supportive approach as a parent would be to help your teen or tween document any important information about what happened, block the person who is bothering them, or come up with other solutions.
Keep in mind that the conversation about online safety is not a one-time thing—it should be ongoing, and doesn’t have to always be a formal sit-down. And most importantly, be sure to back up your words by acting responsibly when you see something questionable in your own social media feed.