Just when your kids are beginning to formulate their own opinions and live the values learned from parents and peers, the internet is waiting to challenge them.
Being open and honest about the online world of the internet and social media is crucial. Hopefully, as parents, you have established a solid rapport with your kids and teens, so when you decide to let them enter this world, they will feel grounded and equipped to deal with what comes next. And it’s a lot.
“Keeping an open line of communication with your kids is important,” said Suzanne Campiche, a licensed clinical social worker and therapist at Children's of Mississippi's Center for Advancement of Youth, an outpatient clinic for children with behavioral or developmental issues run by the University of Mississippi Medical Center. “They need to feel like if they are worried about their interactions online, they can feel comfortable talking to you.”
Here are some pointers for how to have a conversation with your kids and teens about the internet.
Speak calmly and directly.
As parents, your demeanor and voice set the tone for the conversations you have with your kids, and how you speak to them will influence their openness. The online world can be dangerous, so reassure them of their safety from the jump.
Let it feel like their idea.
As a general rule, people don’t like to be lectured to or feel that they have no agency in what’s being decided for them. Engage them in the conversation rather than dictating the rules outright. Chances are, you’ve already instilled some of your values in them through your own actions.
Lead by example.
Actions speak much louder than words. Model the behavior you want your children to imitate, because whether you like it or not, they will. That includes how much time you spend on your phone and your attitude toward online platforms.
Help them understand the importance of privacy.
Many kids online today use creative handles for their screen names on online gaming platforms like Roblox and social media sites like Discord. That’s a good start. But they need to understand how letting strangers know information about where they live, their birthday, their last names and other sensitive info—even “online friends” they feel they can trust—can lead to bad outcomes. Also, they have to assume anything they send or post online will never truly go away.
If it feels wrong, it probably is.
Teach your kids to trust their gut—if something doesn’t feel right, then something is probably wrong. You’ve likely given them the same advice in other situations, and the online world doesn’t play by different rules. Give them the reassurance and guidance to trust their own moral compass.
Don’t forget the big picture.
Killebrew uses a Native American fable describing a war between two wolves, often credited to the Cherokee tribe, to communicate a universal truth. In the story, a young boy visits his grandfather and hears of the battle waged between two wolves that are inside everyone. “One wolf is prideful and envious, full of anger and resentment, and wants to devour him. The other wolf is full of peace and prosperity, and is giving, loving and kind. The boy asks his grandfather, ‘Which one wins?’ And he replies, ‘The one you feed.’
“I like that because it explains our humanity,” she said. “We do have both of those in us, and it's about what we are feeding” which determines the directions we take. Ensure your kids and teens are self aware and ready to feed the right wolf.
Family Online Safety Pledge
Make sure your kids understand that having a connected device comes with responsibilities. This pledge provides guidelines to help your kids and teens use their devices and the internet safely.
C Spire Connect & Protect Plan
The C Spire Connect & Protect plan gives parents tools to easily track their kid’s location, restrict content, limit screen time, set boundaries for social media, and help protect them online at any age.
Read more helpful articles in the Parents’ Resource Center.