Watching kids move effortlessly around the web, it may appear they don’t need the talk. In fact, parents may feel their kid could give them the talk. But, a child’s ease with a computer doesn’t mean they understand how their information is collected, shared and used.
Even though parents may feel out of their depth, they need to have the talk. With most kids having an online presence by the age of 2, they should start sooner vs. later. By starting young, they establish a strong foundation for those teenage years. Plus, it is much easier to talk to a 4-year-old wanting to use your phone vs. a 13-year-old wanting to go on Facebook.
Below are some scripts parents can use to guide their own mini-talks. These examples are from my family and friends and focus on teaching kids about protecting personal information and sharing responsibly. The talks begin at preschool and continue through high school.
I ‘m sooo bored, can I play with your phone?
“Yes, you can, but first what do you want to do on it?”
A parent’s phone is most kid’s first introduction to the digital world. At this stage parents should promote going online for a specific purpose such as playing a game or looking up something. This is also the perfect time for parents to check their own habits. If they don’t want a future teen texting at the dinner table, they should start now by putting away their own phone during dinner.
Mom, I got to use the iPad today at school!
"What did you do? Do you have classroom rules for the iPad? Now, that you are using the computer at home more, we should make our own home rules.”
This is a great opportunity to piggy back on what kids are learning at school and create online rules for the family. Kids at this age will love showing off what they know and will want to take part in creating an online family plan.
Makayla gave me this new toy. The box says I can play games online, can I please?
“Let’s take a look and see. Many websites will want you to set up an account before you can play a game, so I am glad you asked first.”
Parents should make sure kids always ask before signing up on a website. Parents can talk about what information kids can share online and what they should never share. These rules apply not only to creating an account but also when answering surveys or messaging online.
My friends are all on this site, can I go on?
“This site requires anyone who signs up to be over 13 years old. Sites have this restriction because they collect and share a lot of your information including name, address, photos and videos. And, this site shares with everyone not just with kids your own age.”
Many popular websites, including Facebook, YouTube, Tumblr and Twitter, require users to be 13 years or older. This restriction is not about content but about protecting privacy. Websites, that collect information from children under 13, must have parent approval. Kids under 13 may want to join these popular sites and some do, but parents should talk with their kids about the risks involved in lying to join a website and the benefits to being honest both on and offline.
Can I get this app? I played it on the school bus and it is free!
“I can see why you want this app but look at all these permissions. The company gives you this app for free because it collects all this information and sells it to other companies. This does not look like a fair trade to me. Let’s see if we can find a better app.”
Parents need to teach kids to read and weigh permissions before clicking accept. Their information is valuable and they should not mindlessly give it away.
Mom you cannot post that photo, I hate my smile!
“What?! This is a great picture but if you don’t want me to post it, I won’t.”
Parents and siblings should always ask before posting pictures. The best way to teach kids to ask before they post is for adults to ask their permission.
I am 13 now, I want to open a Facebook account.
“Yes, you are 13. I know a lot of your friends are on Facebook, but social networks are a very public space. It is not just your friends who will see your profile. Initially, I will want you to….”
With many colleges and employers checking out Facebook profiles, Facebook can be a kid’s social resume. When a teen first goes on Facebook, parents may want to make sure their 13 year old is sharing smart by friending them or having their password. Parents will need to make this decision based on their child. Whatever a parent decides, they should be up front with their teen. Teens should understand why a parent is monitoring and what the expectations and consequences are for over sharing.
Why do I need a password?! No one cares about what is on my phone.
“Your phone has a lot of information on it. If it is lost or stolen, anyone who finds it will have access to your twitter account, your address book, your texts, your phone numbers, etc. It is important for you to protect your information and your friend’s information. The easiest way to do that is to set a password.”
A phone contains a lot of information and should always be password protected. Teens should set strong passwords containing letters, numbers and symbols.
I am thinking about applying for a job, what do you think?
“I read that some employers and colleges are looking at applicants Facebook and Twitter accounts. I was just thinking we should search your name and make sure you are happy with everything that comes up.”
Teens are going to have information about them online. They can turn these online profiles to an asset by posting photos, videos or comments about stuff they care about so it complements their application.
“You won’t believe what happened at school today! Jack sent a text to Megan telling her he liked Isabel. Megan took a screenshot of Jack’s text and posted it to her Instagram – now everyone knows.”
“Wow, so what did Jack think of this? What do you think?”
Sometimes instead of immediately condemning the behavior, parents should find out what their teen thinks. Do they believe if something is online it can be reposted anywhere? During the course of a conversation, parents can slip in their own thoughts on how it is important to have trust and be a friend.
“Willow thought she was messaging a boy her own age online but she was actually talking to a demon from another dimension. See, you never really know who anyone is online.”
While watching TV with my kids, I have found parenting moments from everything from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to the Simpsons. They laugh and tease me about my absurd connections but they do remember them. Not every discussion needs to be long and serious. Sometimes you can impart just as much information by being a little silly.