How to Talk to Kids about Digital Safety

This post is an excerpt from our Digital Citizenship Conference in Los Angeles. The conference was a rich environment for educators, law enforcement officers and parents to openly discuss issues and solutions for helping students shine in the digital world. All of the content from the Digital Citizenship Conference is available as a Virtual Replay Ticket.

Here are the experts who contributed to this blog:

Joi Podgorny

Joi Podgorny
Kids Online
Safety Expert

Whitney Takacs

Whitney Takacs

Jeff Ervine

Jeff Ervine
Founder & CEO

Marcela De Vivo

Marcela De Vivo
Founder & CEO
Gryffin Media

Alon Shwartz

Alon Shwartz
Founder & CEO

Mercedes Samudio

Mercedes Samudio
Parenting Coach
The Parenting Skill

Parents have so much fear about the internet. How do we manage parents fear about the internet?

Give parents the tools they need to be more efficient using the web. –Alon Shwartz

There’s a large percentage of parents that somehow believe/really hope that the internet will go away one day. It sounds funny I know but they’re really out there. We have to communicate that it’s here to stay. If anything with VR and AR and wearables it’s only going to get, I want to say, worse, but really more engaged and more involved and closer to us and we just need to understand that. I think that’s the first step. Acceptance. Then continue with giving parents the tools they need to be more efficient using the web. I don’t believe parents need to become experts on social media and on apps. I mean it evolves so quickly there’s no way we’ll ever catch up but there is help from technological companies, there are some products to help us. –Alon Shwartz, unGlue

The more open the communication is between students and parents the less likely students are to misuse social media. –Whitney Takacs

I think what will always be a constant is – the soft skills of parenting. I mean bullying didn’t start 10 years ago and we keep acting like it did. People were not flipping out at the level they are now. Kids were bullied at all times, in all of history. The idea that we are running in to save every situation with our kids, for example, if they get a bad grade on a test we’re going to talk to the teacher. We’re not letting them fail. The parenting ideologies that have been happening, I think, are the main contributor, not WhatsApp, Kik Messenger, Snapchat. I don’t think it’s the apps, the apps are just a new forum for kids to be going through the same developmental milestones as kids before them. We’re just approaching it in more of this kind of terror situation as opposed to stepping up and being the parents, being the caregivers, being the community members, raising them like a village like we used to do. We kind of got away from that and I think we need to get back there. All the studies say the more open the communication is between students and parents the less likely students are to misuse social media. –Whitney Takacs, Rancho-Starbuck Intermediate School

How can we talk to kids so that we help create better digital safety and more awareness around digital safety?

We need to teach children how to understand online safety. –Mercedes Samudio

As parents, we have the wisdom to discern what to post on social media and what apps are safe to use. Kids on the other hand, might think their picture is no big deal or their post is just them having fun with my friends. As parents, educators, and professionals we need to learn how to talk to kids about online safety and teach children how to understand it. –Mercedes Samudio, The Parenting Skill

iCanHelpline is a very a cool resource. –Joi Podgorny

There’s a non-profit start-up in California called iCanHelpline. It’s directly focused towards educators and administrators to help them in situations where they don’t know what’s going on. Say there’s a sexting ring happening in the school on whatever app that’s hot this week, and the administrator doesn’t know how to report it. Or the teacher has no idea what they’re supposed to do, you can call iCanHelpline and get help with it. They have connections to the safety boards at Facebook and Twitter and they can call those places and expedite a “takedown” request or whatever needs to happen because they have connections with these companies. So iCanHelpline is a very a cool resource. –Joi Podgorny, Good People Collective

I think the best piece of advice is to just start learning, just kind of get out there. Get into what’s going on. Set your Google Alerts to “social media teens” so you emails every couple of days and it will help you stay on top of this stuff. This will decrease your fear so you can start a conversation with your child about it. Also, there is great software out there. TeenSafe is one, there are great programs for parents to help students and then they can really guide them to use digital devices very safely. But I think just getting involved in the conversation is taking the first step, like you are all doing right now. Going to a conference, having your school host a parent night. I know that sounds super old-school, to do a parent night, but basic is good! Giving them the basics of here’s what’s hot right now (and it changes all the time) but you can help keep them in the loop so they can start asking those questions. Also, if your teens and students know that you have a parent night like my students know all about the parent nights, then they talk to their parents about it too, so that helps to get that door open. –Whitney Takacs, Rancho-Starbuck Intermediate School

There’s no way a parent can sit there and monitor each thing a child does online. –Marcela De Vivo

What we’re observing now is we’re shifting the dialogue away from monitoring to using the opportunity as conversation starters because you can’t control that there are new apps coming out. So it’s not just you monitoring and being heavy-handed, top-down, but teaching the kid from an early age and obviously being involved with them, about how to handle things that come up online. There’s no way a parent can sit there and monitor each thing a child does online. Nobody can. So, it’s teaching the kids to self-regulate from an early age. –Marcela De Vivo, Gryffin Media

Most of the face-to-face interaction and socialization that goes on in a child’s day happens during school. –Jeff Ervine

My best advice is not my own, it comes from some of my principals that I work with around the country. And it’s: Go talk to your principal and ask him, what are his policies and procedures with the respect to the safety of your children online? When there are behavioral instances, what do they do, how do they follow up, how much do they care, how vigilant are they? If that principal, doesn’t really give you the right answer, pull your kid out of that school. Or make sure that you’re active in that school’s PTA and what’s going on. Because you trust and sign over your child from bus stop to bus stop, every day. Every right you have to that child you give to that principal, because your child is in their care. Principals number one job for your child is safety and you want that to ensure they are protecting your child. Most of the face-to-face interaction and socialization that goes on in a child’s day happens during school. So, you should be vigilant and engaged. If you think that there’s poor leadership in that school, you either have to make a change or make them change. You need to ask questions and do your due diligence. Ask, “How many incidences have you had in the last year?” “How many incidences have you had in the last 6 years?” “How many teachers have you had to fire?” Understand what’s going on. If they’re not vigilant about their teachers and the safety of your children, you don’t want them in their care because your children are going to be at a much higher risk. –Jeff Ervine, Bridg-it

I do believe that technology can help us, I don’t think technology is the be-all everything but we can’t use yesterday’s tools to solve tomorrow’s problems. We have to leverage technology so one tool that I definitely recommend is called Bark. It’s a new app that allows parents to use technology like AR and natural language processing to “listen” to the conversations kids have online. It reports to the parents if there are any weird patterns or if they’re talking about sex or drugs or guns or whatever the parent concerns are. The parents will be alerted so it’s a great tool. It maintains privacy and boundaries. You can’t read everything, not that you would ever be able to read all of your kid’s text messages. Have you seen teens’ group texts? It’s pretty boring, “Hi… Hi… What are you doing…” It’s undoable. But, this program works and preserves some privacy. –Alon Shwartz, unGlue

VISR is another good program. It will go through your child’s social media accounts, whichever ones you want to link to it, and it will give you a report if they use keywords or whatever words you want to look for. Or even things like if a post is geotagged on a public account, it’ll give you a notification. It’s an awesome, awesome technology. It’s free! There’s another one called Pocket Guardian. It monitors 14 of the major social media feeds. And OurPact is awesome. You can actually make apps disappear during the app bedtime, so if your kids come home and 4 to 6 is homework time, then Snapchat won’t even be visible on their phone from 4 to 6 so the Temptation is gone, it’s so great! –Whitney Takacs, Rancho-Starbuck Intermediate School

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One Response to How to Talk to Kids about Digital Safety

  1. Ruth Doering May 11, 2017 at 1:55 pm #

    Great article and conference. For parents interested in conversation starters on why monitoring tween/teens smartphones as part of digital safety, please check this Slideshare. Thanks, the TeenSafe team

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