I work and live cybersecurity, but even I worry about my children’s use of the Internet. Or rather, I worry about how other people use this shared space, that my children are starting to occupy, and how it might affect them. The Internet is one of our greatest achievements, and like all tools, it has the potential to build something great, but there is also room for abuse. In this blog, I hope to share with you a few tips on how to help and teach your children how to use this wonderful tool safely and be a part of the community.
Be aware of, and involved in, what your child does online
Keep an open dialog about what they do on the Internet and do so regularly. I ask my kids to show me. Kids love to be experts! This is a great way to find out what services they are currently using and which communities they frequent.
To keep the dialog going and establish you as a trusted source of information is important. Ask your children to show you what they find interesting, what they enjoy and also what they would like to find online and if there is anything they would like to know.
Take some time to get to know the services your kids have shown you, create an account and browse around. This will give you a better picture of what they have found there and what might be there to be yet to found, which will be an excellent basis for how to move the conversation forward with your children. It will also enable you to find out if the service supports any parental controls. Many sites do support parental controls and my advice is to use them. YouTube would be my prime example, given how their algorithms typically edge you to the more extreme with their “if you’ve watched this then you’ll probably enjoy this content!" with each consecutive autoplay/click. Search engines, like Google and DuckDuckGo, also support filtering explicit content by default.
Being involved applies very much to social media as well. Find out what communities your children are involved in and be online “friends” with them as well. Talk about how they use messaging services and social media.
People love validation, kids and grown-ups alike, and social media has made getting it easier with “likes” and “shares” (I will not be able to keep myself from following how this post spreads and what my peers and others think of it). This mechanism is (ab)used by social media companies to keep you on their site, capitalizing on your attention to sell ads and by others to influence what you think and feel.
There are unhealthy ways to use social media and also bad influences, hatred and feelings of inadequacy; but also great friends, support, great communities and wisdom. Help your kids to navigate these different things and find the good bits, and to be aware of the bad sides. Tell them to trust their instincts and to ask you if they see something weird or if something or someone feels off.
Teach your children to be mindful of what they send to others and share publicly. Remind them that anything put on the internet, be it in a private chat conversation or on public social media, stays on the internet as long as it’s interesting to someone. Just because something is shared in a private setting doesn’t mean it will always stay that way.
Be a good friend and a good role model for others
Teach your children that interactions online are just the same as in the real world. There are real people, with real feelings, on the other side of the screen and they should be treated with empathy and respect.
Talk to them about how to be a good friend and a constructive part of a community and how that applies online as well. Show them how to use the “report post/abuse” buttons on the different sites they visit frequently.
Boundaries, such as limits on screen time, which apps are allowed, which websites they can frequent and which services they can use, and the usage of parental controls for services, are important and all a part of parenting.
Limits and boundaries need to be age appropriate and agreed upon, and while often seen by kids as draconian (especially if it’s something that is imposed rather than agreed upon in conversation) and restrictive, they also bring freedom to explore and help your children to understand what is safe and what is not. Boundaries tell kids where it is safe(ish) to explore and it can nurture their curiosity. This is where involvement and conversation are critical. As kids get older parents will gradually need to relinquish control and trust in their children’s judgment and maturity.
Teach them to use sentences for passwords and to use different passwords for different services. It’s easier to remember phrases and sentences and harder for others to guess or crack.
Get your kids involved in installing patches. Don’t huff and puff when you need to reboot your computer. Explain that, while it may be annoying, patching is important to keep your information safe. Teach them about antivirus and why backups are important.