Growing up, we simply didn’t have the same access to technology and the online world as kids do now.  Some sites (like Facebook) have rules disallowing anyone under 13 to use their site. But many parents allow their children to sign up to keep in touch with family members and close friends. This is usually under the pretense of knowing their child’s password and having access to the account at any time. But what happens after a few years when their sense of independence is stronger?

For some parents, it can mean turning from actively to passively monitoring their child’s online accounts.  Instead of logging on to your child’s Facebook page to check his or her messages and posts, view their page as a friend in their network. If your child doesn’t want to add you to their list of friends, do not be put off, but continue having conversations about internet safety. If you continue to have concerns about your child’s online activity, ask another family member or friend to keep an eye on their profile and let you know if they see something alarming. No matter how old your child might be, it’s critical that you keep talking with them about the Internet. Instead of just telling them the web can be dangerous, talk with them about some risks (strangers, bullying, etc.) and welcome them to ask you questions as they come across different online tools and experiences.  Try starting a conversation by using yourself as an example, like this:

“Someone I don’t know asked to friend me on Facebook, do you think I should add them?”

If your child says no, ask them why. If they respond in a way that suggests they understand the implications of talking to strangers online or sharing private information, tell them you will take their suggestion and you appreciate their input.

If your child says yes, ask them why. Their answer may be innocent – that you know this person but don’t remember them, for example.  You may want to ask a follow-up question about whether you need to be friends with someone online if you don’t even remember who they are.  However your child answers, make sure to keep the conversation going. This means listening to their thoughts without judgement. By keeping them engaged, they will be more interested in what you have to say and feel safe coming to you when they’re unsure or concerned about something they’ve experienced online.

Other tools for staying tech-savvy:

  • Family checklist and conversation starters on SCAN’s Tech-Savvy Parenting page on the Parent Resource Center, as well as a recent radio show with special guest Laurie Nathan from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
  • Reminders to NOT reveal too much from NetSmartz.org. On a site like Facebook, names are required to sign up, but birth year, address, and phone number are not. Make sure your kids know not to put that information on any online profile, and not to give it to someone unless they already know the person offline (such as friends who want to come over).  As always, if you serve as an example for your kids, they will be more likely to understand and follow your family’s rules for Internet use.
  • Age-appropriate sites on Internet safety from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children:
    http://www.netsmartzkids.org/ (younger children)
    http://www.nsteens.org/ (tweens)
    http://www.netsmartz.org/Teens (teens)
    http://www.netsmartz.org/Parents (parents)
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