Whenever I’m asked what I do for a living (“I keep kids and families safe online”), people’s first reaction is one of shock: “I didn’t even know that there were people who did that!”
After the initial surprise, the questions about online child safety and user generated content (UGC) moderation are never-ending. Even young kids are tech-savvy, and there is a huge choice of video games, live chat feeds, and social media platforms on tap for them to explore. So how do parents navigate the digital age? Below I’ve listed some of the most common questions and my responses.
1. Recognize that the teacher has become the student and that’s OK.
The chances are that your child understands digital and mobile technology better than you. They have grown up with it, and are happy to spend time figuring out how it all works. Don’t be intimidated by this – it’s normal. Children are naturally curious, and love to explore new environments, and that’s all the Internet is: a new environment.
And while you are the expert when it comes raising your kids, they can navigate a website more quickly than you can imagine and will often have the upper hand. Spend time online with your kids, but allow them to drive the experience. Enter their world, and allow them to share their love for this online space.
This way, your kids will feel more comfortable opening up and entrusting you to share their hobbies and interests.
2. Learn together about safety policies.
Once you and your child have explored the fun aspects of their favorite digital spaces, it’s a good idea to review how those sites keep users safe, and explore safety together. Ask these questions about any website your child may be using:
Take a look at the screenshots below for resources and examples of how you and your child can report unsuitable content on Facebook and YouTube.
Facebook's Family Safety Center
YouTube's safety mode in action
How to report spam on YouTube
3. Combine social skills and communication etiquette with online behavior.
This is a perfect time to for you to take over as teacher. You are the etiquette expert and you have helped your kids to understand how to use words for good, rather than bad. Explaining how their behavior online affects their own lives – offline and on – is a powerful step towards helping them develop responsible online activity. See the example below from popular children’s site Moshi Monsters, which clearly sets out the community’s rules. Moshi Monsters safety rules.
4. Practice what you preach, and think before you post.
I can’t tell you how many grown-ups get caught up in online disputes – people are provocative online and it’s easily done. However, gone are the days of do as I say, not as I do.
If you are active online, make sure that your own behavior is exemplary. Your kids can find you online, and will call you out if you’re behaving badly.
5. Know your own children’s limitations, and trust them.
You know your children better than anyone else. Trust them, and treat their online time exactly as you would their offline time. Set limits, and find out where they are spending their time, and who with, just as you would in their real world lives.
The digital sphere can be a scary place if you don’t know much about it. But it is also a world of wonder and excitement. Take time to learn about what makes it such fun for your children. You may even find you enjoy some of their online worlds, too!
Cover image courtesy of Flickr.