Good Digital Parenting
Blog | June 22, 2015

Go With Your Gut: How to Talk to Your Kids About Online Safety

IT Manager , FireEye

In this blog I would like to go in depth on the concept of how we parents, educators and personal safety instructors can more easily talk about both physical safety and online safety.  Because to me it is the same conversation.  Why?  The methodology is the same in the mind and in the body.  Go with your gut instinct.

Here is how to break it down.   Put everyone your kids are in contact with into one of three groups:

  1. Safe List or “Those you Know”-Examples:   parent, legal guardian, very close Auntie, grandparents, one very trusted neighbor, the longtime best friend of a parent.  A child’s Safe List is determined by their parent or guardian.  Not by the child or their friends.
  2. “Kinda knows”-Examples:  Teachers, Coaches, parents of a child’s friends, colleagues of a parent, friends of a parent who are at the house infrequently
  3. “Don’t knows” = EVERYBODY ELSE

NOTE:  The terms originally come from the DVD put out by Safe Side featuring John Walsh and Julie Clark.  It is VERY good and highly recommended.  I have had my own children watch the DVD many times and I surprise quiz them based on this concept often.  I also give them scenarios to test their thought process and to make sure they are applying the three group model to all contact with others.

Application to Cyber Safety 

Now, I’d like to expand on Knows vs Kinda Knows vs Don’t Knows concept, and apply it to cyber safety.

The permissions and alert level for each of these 3 groups is different.   For a child’s Safe List tell your kid that those in this group are exactly who can pick a child up from school.  If a Coach appears out of the blue and waves you over to your car saying “your mom told me to give you a ride home” your son or daughter should recognize that person as a Kinda Know, and not get in that car.

Online unless you are Skyping with a cousin everyone is a DON’T KNOW.  And tell your kid they cannot share ANY personal information with Don’t Knows.  Ever!

Are all online relationships detrimental and dangerous?  No.  But we have to proceed safely.  Someone can go from being a Don’t know to a Kinda know over time.  Trust is built one truth at a time.  For an adult they are in control of their own Safe List.  But I will restate that a child’s Safe List is determined by their parent or guardian.  Not by the child or their friends.  Remember to emphasize to your child that their Safe List is small and very particular.  They should be able to name every single person on their Safe List when asked.

Your child should go with their gut.  Anyone in public at a Starbucks or bus stop who asks them personal information gets that “you are a creeper” reaction and look.  We can empower our kids to do the same online.  

Here is something to think about.  Are we teaching our children that their bodies are not their own?  The example is when you and your kids meet someone new, someone they have never met before.  Ever said to your child “oh go on over there and give Auntie Joanna a hug!” when you could see your child was apprehensive?  Of course the Auntie may be very trusted by you but your son or daughter, not having any contact with them, applies their natural instinct and hesitates to have physical contact.  This question is beyond the scope of this blog but it is something to consider.

Your child should go with their gut.  Anyone in public at a Starbucks or bus stop who asks them personal information gets that “you are a creeper” reaction and look.  We can empower our kids to do the same online.  

Make up examples that are true to you.  If you are a FB user then craft a scenario where someone you have never met sends you a Friend Request.  Do you automatically accept?  You shouldn’t and your scrutiny of that person and their account should at least include knowing how many of your Friends are Friends with them and further more a quick look at their account without accepting the Friend Request is a very good idea.  My reaction is often the very same “you are a creeper” look as I am gazing at FB.  As of the writing of this blog I have 86 pending Friend Requests in FB.  I don’t know if I will ever get to them all.  And that is JUST FINE.

Cover image courtesy of Flicker