Talking Online Safety With Your Kids

Baby With ComputerWhat is a website, Daddy?

That was the response from my five-year old when I asked him to name his favorite website. (For the record, the accompanying picture is not my son.)

I found his response insightful. While he doesn’t know what the words “website” and “Internet” mean, he and his three-year-old sister absolutely know how to navigate around YouTube and Flickr, and make video Skype calls with friends and family. They are both comfortable programming other connected devices and services as well, like smart phones, our automobile GPS, Roku and Netflix, among other.

Young children and preschoolers don’t experience the world through jargon and schemas like “online”, “the Internet”,  and “websites”. Their expectation is that devices simply are connected — period. 

A world of presumed continuous connectivity is the one parents now must embrace while raising kids. We must acknowledge and educate our kids about life on computers and conventional websites and apps. But we also must educate and sensitize them to the fact that an increasing proportion of devices and services we take for granted also happen to read, write, record and transmit data — sometimes actively, sometimes passively without us knowing it. Perhaps all electronic devices soon will be connected and smart?

This is new territory which our entire human race is contemplating — let alone pre-schoolers. Connected technologies and networks are disrupting our social norms, laws, the manner in which kids grow up, and the way we parent.

What prompted this introspection? The second challenge in Trend Micro’s Digital Joneses project, a year-long project that brings together bloggers and their families to “examine issues affecting individual members of a modern, digitally-connected household.”

Specifically, I led a talk about digital safety with my kids, guided by Trend Micro’s family discusion guide for online safety. Questions for pre-schoolers included:

  1. What is your favorite website?
  2. Do you know what to do when something new pops up on the internet? Do you click on it or first call mom and dad?
  3. Do you know why you need either mom or dad to watch you while you are on the internet?
  4. If you’re online and a message pops up asking you a question, should you answer it? What should you do?

Despite my young kids’ lack of understanding of the questionnaire’s concepts and terminology (some of which could be outdated in a couple years), I found the proactive discussion invaluable. The fact is, we’ve never before had an overt discussion about digital safety. It was actionable in the sense this should be the start of an ongoing discussion — perhaps for the rest of our lives, given how rapidly the digital world is changing.

Trend Micro’s discussion guide provided questions for older age groups as well. They are practical and comprehensive, covering topics like bullying, sexting, grooming, tracking, privacy and fraud security. Given the rapid change of technology, social norms and laws, the value of resources like this will be dependent on their comprehensiveness and freshness. To download this discussion guide and access a variety of other resources, visit Trend Micro’s safety site: Internet Safety For Kids and Families.

Lastly, we don’t allow our kids to use electronic devices without direct parental supervision. But given their age and looming entrance into elementary school, they’re living more independent lives, including online. So we’re trying out Trend Micro’s Online Guardian for Families, which empowers parents to set up profiles for children and then monitor and restrict usage of social networks and inappropriate adult content. It also helps protect against cyberbullies and predators, and lets parents schedule Internet usage parameters. From what I can tell, it’s compatible with the Windows operating system. Hopefully that will extend to other key operating systems present in our lives, like MacOS, Android and Linux.

Disclosure: The Digital Joneses Study will occasionally include loaned gadgets and other assets, like the software mentioned above.

Published by Max Kalehoff

Father, sailor and marketing executive.

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