Questions (and answers) for parents about kids’ online safety

technology, online safety, parentsWe often pose a few questions to parents – in conversations, forums, research and elsewhere – about how much they know about their children’s online safety practices. Along with sharing these queries, we thought it might be a good idea to suggest some baseline guidance in response, as well.

  • Have you talked lately with your kids about what they’re doing online?
  • Do you worry that your kids know more about technology than you do?
  • Have you ever had a family discussion about what kids can do online, or set boundaries for technology or Internet use?
  • Would you know what to do if a child came to you and said something online upset him or her?

Microsoft is, and always has been, a strong proponent of parents talking to kids about life online. We view the “e-talk” as the first step on a path to eventual digital freedom. Simply start by asking kids what they do online, and build the dialogue from there. Here are some other thoughts, as well.

Have you talked lately with your kids about what they’re doing online?

It’s never too early (or too late) to sit down with kids as they go online. Ask them to show you around the sites they visit, pages they create, games they play, what they talk about and share and with whom. Be curious – ask questions about what you see and listen carefully to the answers.

Do you worry that your kids know more about technology than you do?
When it comes to children’s and teen’s safety online, there’s no substitute for parental involvement and guidance. Get your kids to educate you about technology (try the approach above); assess the risks together, and then apply the wisdom parents have been using to keep kids safe offline since time immemorial. To put your digital skills in perspective, Virgin Media and The Parent Zone conducted a study in 2012 of more than 2,000 British young people (ages 14 to 17) called “A Shared Responsibility: Building Children’s Online Resilience.” They found that “caregiver digital skills appeared not to matter.” More important were a positive attitude about the opportunities and benefits of the online world, as well as supportive and enabling parenting.

Have you ever had a family discussion about what kids can do online, or set boundaries for technology or Internet use?
A powerful way to learn about your kids’ technology and Internet use is to talk together and negotiate clear ground rules that fit your child’s age, maturity level and your family’s values. Discuss the kinds of sites that are off limits, such as social sites not meant for those under age 13. (Abide by those sites’ rules; they exist for a reason.) Talk about what information should not be shared and guidelines for respectful communication with others. Regularly revisit these “house rules” as your children mature, develop new skills and earn new stripes toward digital freedom. An interesting note: In the U.K. study mentioned above, researchers found that restricting and monitoring young people’s online activity might shield them from harm, but it also appeared to “have the unintended negative consequence of undermining children’s resilience and constructive engagement online.” Indeed, we should view calculated risk as opportunity to be embraced, not presumed consequences to be eliminated. “Balance” should be the watchword.

Would you know what to do if a child came to you and said something online upset him or her?

Kids may be looking for someone to trust to confide that something made them feel uncomfortable, nervous or upset. It could be your own child or someone else’s, and that trusted person could be you, a teacher, coach, counselor or peer. If so, it’s important to know how you might help. Physical threats, ongoing online bullying or any form of exploitation, should be reported immediately to local police. Inappropriate content or behavior should be reported to the Internet service provider, cellphone company or Web service. On Microsoft services, look for the Report Abuse link, or contact us at: abuse@microsoft.com. Content that exploits minors or threatens to harm them should also be reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children or any of the INHOPE hotlines or helplines. If reporting feels like a step too far, just try listening. Sometimes that’s really all kids are after.

To learn more about staying safer online generally, visit our website and check out our educational resources at the Microsoft YouthSpark Hub.

At the time of writing of this post, Jacqueline Beauchere’s title was Chief Online Safety Officer.

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