As a child of the 80s, raised on technology, I imagine that it can be overwhelming for today’s parents to teach their kids about Internet and social media safety. It’s intuitive to assume that parents are the ones who teach their children how to perform new skills and make use of tools, but technology has turned that idea on its head. I grew up with technology that my parents couldn’t begin to understand, and oftentimes they didn’t know what else to do but trust me to do the “right” thing with it. For this article I have thought about the things that might have helped my parents guide me, even when “technically” I was much more savvy.
Parents should give kids an idea of what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior online, starting from their guidelines for acceptable behavior in day-to-day life. Computer safety also requires us to discuss issues of privacy and reputation. This includes helping kids to understand what things should stay private, as they decide what information to share with their contacts.
Setting some basic (or not so basic) ground rules will allow you to stay informed about your kids’ online habits and help you provide guidance for their safety. Just as you wouldn’t allow your child to go to a mixed-age event without supervision, you should recognize social media and the Internet as a real-world means of communication that should also be moderated.
The following are some ideas to help you get started with setting your own ground-rules for Internet and social media use:
1. Know their online friends. If you know your kids’ friends at school, your role in their social media use shouldn’t be much different. You have a similar right and responsibility to know who your kids are “friending” and interacting with on social media sites. Make this an important part of your ground rules: you should have open access to their account so that you can browse through friends and make sure content they are sharing is appropriate.
2. Limit use. Designate times and limits for use, just as you would for TV and video games. Social media shouldn’t replace face-to-face interaction.
3. Pick a centralized location. Allow them use of a computer or tablet only in a shared space in your home, such as the family room or kitchen, as opposed to privately in their rooms. Kids are less likely to engage in risky behavior if you are in the room or might walk through at any moment.
4. Block pop-ups. Tell your child to block pop-up windows and to ask you when they’re unsure about online ads. Kids are more likely to click on a colorful button that says, “You’ve won $1,000 dollars, click here to redeem.” These announcements and pop-up windows usually lead to viruses or inappropriate websites.
5. Beware what you share. The issue of privacy online quickly becomes an issue of reputation. Advise your kids that with the widespread use of social media sites, our lives are being “recorded” online, and anything we say or post can easily be shared and copied. Parents should urge their children to think twice about what is appropriate to post in public platforms.
6. Don’t believe everything you see. Teach your kids that not everything they see online is true. A lot of information has not been verified, and many websites and blogs are filled with opinion presented as fact. The same principle applies to others’ identities; not everyone is who they say they are. The Internet brings new meaning to “Don’t talk to strangers,” and parents have a key role in identifying risky behavior.
If you are coming to social media new as an adult, or even to the Internet, you are not alone! There are countless resources online and locally that can help you keep your kids safe. Look for free computer literacy classes offered at the Santa Fe Public Library, or sign up for a beginner course at the Santa Fe Community College. As a good parent, your responsibility is to make an effort to get familiar with new communication technologies that affect your children.
Finally, remember to model proper technology etiquette. Be a good example for your kids! Don’t text and drive or check email — even at stoplights.
* Oh my god! Too much information! Do the right thing! What's a parent to do?!
Look for Mari's "Techie Corner" column in upcoming issues of Tumbleweeds, and please email email@example.com with questions you'd like her to address.