How to go from parental control to parental guidance
October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month, and when it comes to keeping kids safe online, it’s not about control. It’s about conversation and connection.
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We’ve been through a lot in our connected lives over the past few years. New joys, new worries, more solutions. Last week, I spoke with Verizon employees at a Cybersecurity Awareness Month event alongside Ethan Arenson, head of online safety for Verizon, about the challenges parents are facing in a post-pandemic era as they try to keep kids safe and healthy online. As an attorney and child safety expert, I’ve seen a lot of changes take place. Some worries have evolved, and some of the same issues still linger.
You may view the full replay below. It includes tips and insights beyond what is covered in this article. But if you’re pressed for time, you may read on to hear some of the most important points made during the webinar.
Today’s digital world
So what’s happening out there? What are the dangers today that we need to be talking to our kids about?
Extremist content has shot up. Influencers and celebrities are more accessible than ever, and so are their opinions.
Cyberbullying is now the number one reason a kid calls in to a helpline.
Viral challenges are risky, funny and sometimes dangerous. Stunts or challenges make the rounds on social media, and children may accept the challenge and then film themselves to continue the virality.
Online video games have come a long way. Today, kids are learning strategic thinking, and they’re playing with others, connecting and strengthening real friendships online.
Tech companies are stepping up. We’re seeing more efforts from gaming and social media companies to support parents with new safety centers and support when something goes wrong.
Governments are stepping up too, with increased legislation and online safety bills as the idea of self-regulation online is increasingly questioned.
So what are the challenges ahead? Fake news and misinformation
Fake news existed even before the internet, but now misinformation can go so much farther—and faster. The danger is that it’s so easy to spread information without stopping and thinking critically about where it’s coming from and whether it’s a credible source.
We have to pause and ask, “What is this? And why? Why would someone say this or do this?” We’ll need to encourage kids to think more deeply about what they see online.
Even with simple text assistance in messaging apps, where AI suggests text for messages based on behavior, we need to stop and think about where that’s coming from and ask if it’s helpful.
We need to protect our data and privacy. Something I’m always asking children is, “Just because you think it’s private, is it really private when you send it to a friend? Once you have two people in on a secret, one of them can share it.”
It’s online and more accessible than ever before. Whether it’s popping up in games or in direct messages, inappropriate content is everywhere.
So what does digital parenting look like today?
Digital parenting is open communication with your child, your tweens, teenagers and young people. It’s regular involvement in their internet activities. It’s asking them, “What are you doing online? How was your online day today?” It’s keeping those conversations going.
It’s also active protection of your child’s digital reputation and identity. Think of yourself as the digital guardian of your child’s identity online. That means never sharing their photos online—even if it’s among friends and family—because your child doesn’t have a say in how they’re being represented online. They need to know someone is protecting their identity early on, so they’ll learn to protect it when they’re on their own.
It means using digital safety tools
Conversation is the first and most important tool. Equally important are the tools that can help you reinforce those family agreements and online boundaries. For example:
Consider tools and apps you can use to filter content, monitor texts or set caps on in-app purchasing. You can also use tools to limit screen time and access to the internet, and sometimes, just to turn off access to digital devices. Also, I often stress that the term “parental controls” is better viewed as “parental guidance” since we’re not controlling them so much as we are guiding them.
Think about privacy settings like you think about home security. You can close the windows, lock the doors and get a home security system. Something can still happen, but you’ve done what you can.
School tech strategies
Most of our schools are doing more with technology. Kids are using their devices and tablets in school, so make sure there are responsible use policies in place. Ensure that you and your kids know the rules about how to chat, message and engage.
Finally, a word about digital well-being
We’re also getting a new focus on digital well-being and how to manage digital distraction. Ask your child if they get headaches if they’re on screens for too long. Notice their posture. Are they sitting up straight? Do their thumbs hurt, or does their neck hurt when they’re online too much? Ask them to check in with their bodies.
Then, apply some guidance. Suggest that they turn off app notifications and delete toxic apps and group chats. Try establishing new evening routines around tech to help kids get a better night’s sleep.
When all else fails: Disconnect so you can reconnect with your families, children and teens.
What to do when your child is cyberbullied
This is the number one concern for parents today. My favorite resource is the Cyberbullying Research Center in the United States.
When it happens, try to calm the situation down.
Tackling cyberbullying begins with increasing empathy. We teach our children to be kind from the earliest age, how to share toys and how to say thank you on the playground. Parents and caregivers need to pull those empathy lessons into the digital playground as well—the earlier the better.