How to Raise a Responsible Online Citizen

Oct 26, 2018 at 4:30 p.m. ET
Girl using a tablet
Image: Getty Images. Design: Kinrick Fleuradin/SheKnows.

The internet can seem to be a big, scary place for parents, especially since children grow up with access practically from the moment they exit the womb. While the easiest thing to do is give a child a phone and call it a day, it's important for parents to help guide their kids as they use the internet. Here are some of the best ways you, as a parent, can help raise your child to be a responsible internet user.

Set some ground rules

It's important to set ground rules from the get-go as your child ventures online. Facebook and Messenger Kids Parents Portal helpfully reminds us that children should know rules are rules, whether they're online or off. Just as you'd expect them to wear a helmet before hopping on a bike, you'd also expect them to think things through before sharing something online.

For instance, Dennis Chow, chief information security officer at SCIS Security, says kids need to know to never share identifying information online, no matter how nice the other person seems to be — this includes their name, age, family members, location and school — or anything else that would help a potential predator identify them in the "real" world. "Don't post anything related to your family, friends or activities to public-facing services," he says. "Don't connect to accept requests to chat — just stay in your lane and use the internet for how it was meant to be: an educational and information sharing resource."

Also, you should tell your child to practice kindness. If they're tempted to type out a comment that is unkind, they should learn to rethink that. Social media, and the internet in general, sometimes makes it far too easy to peck out hurtful words, since you're not saying them to someone's face. The results of those comments can be just as bad as in-person bullying, though, and your child needs to understand that.

Friend your kid

If your child is on social media, send them a friend or follow request. While kids aren't always super keen to let their parents in on their online world, it's important to let them know why you're friending them. Talk to them about your ground rules and why you're not trying to invade their privacy — you're instead helping to keep them safe. Friending your child won't let you see their private conversations, but it will help you monitor what they share publicly. "Some parents take the next step and add monitoring software to the computers and mobile devices," notes Chow. "It's a dangerous place out there."

Keep the lines of communication open

It's vital to let your child know, at an early age, that you're there for whatever questions or concerns they may have, says Katie Ziskind, licensed marriage and family therapist at Wisdom Within Counseling. Instead of approaching their questions with criticism, be curious instead. This will encourage your kids to come to you instead of avoiding communication in the first place.

"Parents need to know that children and teens can find anything online," says Ziskind. "The goal is to be there for their child if they have a question about something they've read or seen."

Watch out for red flags

Safety is paramount in all online communications, and it's especially important for children. "From a safety perspective, kids should be mindful of odd communications from unknown individuals or tempting offers of making money, or other unknown entities helping them with XYZ task and then offering to meet them up in real life," explains Chow.

He explains that while we know there are plenty of kind, normal people online, these types of folks don't generally message random kids and offer to meet up without parental permission. Your kids need to know that they can and should tell you if any strangers message them and that they should never respond. 

One way to stop unwanted communication before it starts is with Messenger Kids. Parents must approve all contacts before children can connect, and once kids start chatting, they can't delete any of their conversations. This way you know who your kids are in contact with (and vice versa). 

Connecting safely

The internet is everywhere, and there are situations that can turn bad in a hurry if a child is unprepared to handle the responsibility of using social media. However, the internet is still a great way for kids to keep in touch with friends and family members (especially those who live far away), and used responsibly, it really is a fantastic tool. Teach them important rules from the get-go, keep lines of communication open and be a good role model — that will be a great start.

This post is sponsored by Messenger Kids. 

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