#MSFTCOSO POV: How and when to have the ‘e-talk’ with your kids

The following post is from Jacqueline Beauchere, Chief Online Safety Officer at Microsoft. Once a month on The Fire Hose, Beauchere gives her point of view on topics related to the global consumer online safety, privacy and security landscape. Follow the conversation on Twitter at #MSFTCOSO.


If children have access to online technology, it’s never too late—or too early—to teach them sound habits and practices that will help keep them safer online. Such tips can help parents decide what issues are important for their families, starting with what I call “The Four Es” – Engage, Educate, Enforce and Evaluate.

Historically, in Western culture, when having “the talk,” adults agonized over explaining “the birds and bees.” Today, that critical dialogue—or monologue in many instances—has all but been supplanted by how to talk to kids about various aspects of digital freedom. With some simple guidance, this “e-talk” doesn’t have to be painful or awkward. So, whether it’s a mobile phone, a social media profile or texting privileges, how to use technology safely, responsibly and appropriately, together with family rules, help create the recipe for good digital citizenship.

· Engage:

o Seize the opportunity while children are young to engage with them in their online activities. Have an open dialogue about what is and isn’t acceptable behavior to help them establish the solid digital skills they’ll need to deal with new situations, information and people online.

o When they’re young, keep the computer, gaming console or other device in an open communal setting for easy monitoring. This opens the door to impromptu conversations as kids have questions.

o As kids grow older and demonstrate readiness and maturity, and considering your individual family’s values, help them use new devices and online services with your guidance.

o Before giving teens access to properties like Facebook or Twitter, join in their digital activities, and remain open to their questions and curiosity, so they can continue to reap the tremendous benefits technology has to offer.

· Educate

o Ask questions. Ask them to show you the websites they visit, pages they create, games they play and what they talk about and with whom.

o Discuss what information to keep private and help them create strong, unique passwords.

o Encourage children to listen to and trust their instincts. If something feels uncomfortable or alarms them, that’s probably a warning sign. Always let them know they can come to you, noting that you won’t curtail their digital privileges as a result.

· Enforce

o Once you agree on clear boundaries and family rules, stick to them.

o Establish clear consequences to help children learn, grow and ultimately make smarter choices online.

· Evaluate

o Learn more about how kids are using technology and what sites they visit on a regular basis.

o We also recommend periodically re-examining your family’s rules as children mature and technologies and devices evolve. Familiarize yourself with the privacy features of the online services you use and assess them periodically.

o It’s important to remember: as children get older, the landscape changes, as does their level of responsibility in managing their own profiles, online assets and identity.

o Consider using family safety tools to help create safer online experiences, appropriate for each child.

This is just a proposed high-level framing for kicking off the dialogue.

We have a broad set of guidance on many topical subjects, including preventing online bullying, promoting mobile phone safety and safer online gaming. All of our resources can be found at our website: www.microsoft.com/safety. Also, “like” us on Facebook; follow us on Twitter, and look for my “point of view” by following the #MSFTCOSO hashtag.