There is an old saying that history doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes. Part of preparing for AI’s impacts to kids’ online safety requires we analyze what wisdom we can apply, both from recent years and generational lessons.
The following is excerpted from Online Safety in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, a FOSI whitepaper written in partnership with Kaleido Insights, a research firm specializing in emerging technologies. This two-part summary of takeaways was compiled from interviews and analysis across parents, grandparents, teachers, librarians, and cyber safety experts.
Lesson #1 Model good behavior. The most evergreen advice of all: set a good example. As in most realms of development, parents set foundational templates for navigating the world, problem-solving, and relationships. Technology is no different. Across interviews, parents acknowledge two points:
Parents admit they themselves aren’t always the best role models for online safety, conduct, content, screen time, privacy and security settings
Kids are more perceptive, intuitive, and attentive than we may want to believe
Here the 3 C’s of online safety, content, contact, conduct, serve as a strong framework, but good behavior will also evolve alongside kids and tech. Teens will observe and act on parents’ online examples differently than toddlers. Advice from a pre-smartphone era 10 years ago may sound quaint by today’s standards, and so it will be 10 years in the future. This underscores the need to start the conversation early, and keep it going.
“To teach my son empathy and communication, I have to be the one to turn off the 100 million notifications, to show him what it looks like to be in control of my time and attention. This is one of the best gifts we can give our kids.” -- Mother, Georgia
Key takeaway: Adults’ digital citizenship informs kids’ behavior. View your own good choices not only as day-to-day cues, but as strategies for demonstrating critical thinking and responsible behaviors that align with your family’s values.
Lesson #2 Parental strategies may differ. How parents approach kids’ use of technology differs widely. From helicopter parents to hands-off parents, approaches to kids’ online safety varies from restrictive to permissive. Parents with a conservative approach to tech may limit kids’ screen use strictly, whereas more lenient parents may trust their kids to make their own tech decisions. It is important for parents to maintain a balanced approach to preparing kids, both questioning future tech implications and recognizing that tech will be pervasive in their lives.
“How parents address these choices constitutes the great parenting divide of our time… A divide over how kids use of technology shapes family life and future prospects has far-reaching impacts.” –Alexandra Samuel, digital parenting expert
Key takeaway: Spend time online together, acknowledge that everyone makes mistakes, establish an ongoing dialogue about technology, and aim to build trust and mentorship at every age to prepare responsible digital citizens.
Lesson #3 Be Proactive. Parents and caregivers must now guide children towards adulthood in a world increasingly unlike the one they grew up in. Across the board, parents interviewed place the responsibility on themselves, but this requires a proactive approach to understanding the opportunities and risks of technology.
“Right now you have some parents asking why you haven’t put your kid in coding classes, and other parents decrying any screen time at all!” –Father, California
Key takeaway: Parents must educate themselves. Commit to some degree of ongoing tech awareness or education, such as attending a parenting seminar or PTA workshop, seeking materials from reputable sources, or learning a new skill or game alongside kids.
These are just three lessons of advice offered in our research. To see the rest, check out part two of this two part series.