How to Talk to Your Kids & Teens About Cyber Threats
Starting a conversation about internet safety isn’t easy and comes with many challenges. How early should you start talking to them about predators and cyberbullying? How young is too young? Will they understand the significance of what you’re trying to teach them?
Detective Cronister says kids and teens’ cyber awareness starts with you building relationships with them — the earlier (younger) the better. Communication is key to this process:
- Be involved and active in your kids’ and teens’ lives — both on and offline. While parents often make it a point to get to know the friends that their kids and teens hang out with face-to-face, they don’t always take that same initiative in getting to know their online friends and acquaintances.
- Familiarize yourself with common social media apps, especially those your children use. This is huge. How can you know if your kids are using apps safely if you don’t know how those apps work yourself? This is also helpful for teachers who want to teach kids about safe ways to operate online.
- Be open with them and keep open lines of communication. Having open communication is key to any meaningful relationship — and the same can be said about the relationship between kids and teens and their parents.
- Encourage them to ask questions and be prepared to answer them. Kids are innately curious and want to learn about things. Sometimes, this can lead them to search online for answers. Unfortunately, what they may end up finding can be dangerous or harmful.
- Set clear boundaries and rules upfront. Establishing clear lines about what they can and cannot do online helps them know what’s acceptable and what’s not. Teach them about what you consider appropriate and inappropriate actions and behaviors.
- Help them learn to trust their guts. If a situation or conversation doesn’t feel right, encourage them to talk to you or another trusted adult (such as a teacher). Nature gave us instincts for a reason, and helping kids learn to hone and trust their instincts is an important aspect of personal growth.
- Control your reaction. The trick here is to not get angry or react if they come to you with an issue or tell you they’ve done something disappointing. This can be harder than you may think. Kids, like all of us, make mistakes. And reacting with a cool head goes a long way in establishing trust with your kids and teens.
Talking to your kids about internet safety is a must in today’s connected world. According to Cronister:
“We already do this as parents naturally when we talk to kids about real life strangers, right? And, so, I have always said that we already do this, we just also need to discuss it the same way on the internet — about internet safety.”
So, how did he approach this conversation with his own kids? Cronister says he started talking with his kids about the differences between “good pictures” and “bad pictures.”
“That way, they know, ‘hey, that’s something that Dad said was a bad picture and it’s making me uncomfortable, so I’m going to close this out or I’m going to tell my dad.’ And just exposing them to the thought process that there is such a thing as a good picture or a bad picture, a lot of times will give them enough of a conscious about those things that they’ll come tell you if they saw a good or bad picture.”
Talking to your kids about internet safety is a must in today’s connected world.
Be Part of Their Online World
Dr. Kshetri also shares that it’s always a best practice for parents to be part of their kids’ and teens’ online social networks. It’s about gaining visibility into their “friend sphere” without being overbearing.
“Maybe they can become their Facebook friends, for example. But if they become Facebook friends, they should let them know ‘I’m becoming your Facebook friend, but I’m not spying on you.’ So, this should be a clear line between us spying on children’s behaviors versus kind of observing in a way that is acceptable to them. So, I think they must be able to find some acceptable way so that there is less resistance from the children.”
Privacy and Boundaries for Kids, Teens and Parents
But what about concerns regarding giving your kids and teens privacy? Surely, parents shouldn’t invade their kids’ privacy and be overbearing, right? Both Cronister and Kshetri agree that there needs to be a balance between privacy and personal freedom in terms of allowing kids to grow. However, Cronister is quick to emphasize that there must be a limit in terms of what parents allow their kids do:
“A lot of times, what I see with kids who are victimized is parents who have very few limitations on what their kids are allowed to do. So, it’s the 11-year-old girl who has a cell phone already and their parents think it’s just normal. They’re just supposed to have a cell phone, right? All kids have cell phones now. And the reality is, not really.”
Cronister continues, saying that the threshold for age appropriateness is lowering in our culture right now.
“I think the parents who are afraid of going against the grain in that respect are typically the ones who have problems because they don’t want to ‘invade their kids’ privacy’ because it’s good for them to have their own privacy. And I agree — to an extent. But I think there’s a middle ground: You can give your kids opportunities to have privacy and to be responsible, but at the same time not give them so much freedom that they make mistakes that are unfixable.”