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Gwenn O'Keeffe

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Internet Safety Month: A Guide for Educating Kids, Parents

Posted: 06/19/11 02:50 PM ET

Have you ever noticed that the minute you attempt to inform your kids about something they tune you out with that all too familiar look. It plays out for them like a scene in Charlie Brown with our sage words of wisdom sounding like muffled, meaningless noises.

Clearly we need a better way to reach our kids when important life lessons need to be discussed, whether it be for online or offline issues. I've found one of the best ways to reach kids is using headlines and news stories. This removes us more from lecture-central and puts us more into a discussion mode which our kids relate to much better, especially our teens.

June is the perfect month to use a few well picked headlines to discuss a few important digital issues. Not only is June internet safety month but the summer tends to be a time where kids are a bit more plugged into technology than other times of the year.

The digital world can seem overwhelming but all the issues actually fall into three big topic areas:

1. Digital Citizenship
• Online social behavior and skills
• Online advocacy and empowerment of causes

2. Digital Footprint:
• What goes online, stays online
• Privacy issues
• One's online reputation

3. Online Risks:
• Sexting and Cyberbullying (#1 by far!!)
• Others (ads, mismanaging the digital footprint)

Here are some headlines to use to trigger discussion in your homes on these areas:

1. "Weinergate": You can't flip on the news, online or off, without seeing a headline about Representative Anthony Weiner and his sexting issues. This brings sexting solidly into the adult arena as well as the debate over the best consequences for anyone who sexts. As it's been discussed the last couple of weeks, it clearly doesn't make sense that an adult like Weiner can't be held accountable legally for his actions while teens get the book tossed at them. Something needs to change!

2. Cyberbullying headlines have been around for a long time. We know from headlines that some kids are truly being horrible bullies to other kids online, as exemplified by this headline from New York. On the other end of the spectrum, some kids are fed up with this behavior and trying to stop these bullies by forming groups at their schools to create awareness and teach other kids to stop these bullies as noted in this Florida headline.

3. Digital Citizenship:

Teens love causes. More than just being involved, studies have shown that being invested with causes boosts their self-esteems and ability to care for others. Social media also helps keep them healthy, as illustrated by a recent campaign to raise awareness about teen dating violence.

4. Digital Footprint:

What is a digital footprint? It's a trail of everything you do online. While many trails can be positive, if we don't handle our privacy online well, the consequences can be deleterious as shown in this headline of a teen being fired for something she posted online.


A few final thoughts...

Some parents consider all this stuff and start to think they need to run out and buy a fancy program or online tool to help with their kids' online privacy and safety. In truth, just look in the mirror... That's all your kids need. It's true. You are truly it.

All you need to do is learn enough to be where your kids are online to help them along -- to coach them on the finer points they may not get.

Let me put it to you like this.

Recently, I learned Facebook added a mobile number verification step to the sign-on process. My two teens are also on Facebook so I told them about it. They actually can use Facebook better than I can but don't really get all this privacy stuff that well. That's where I come in. I explained what I observed and we came to the conclusion they should come get me or my husband if that little "enter your mobile number to verify privacy" screen came up. Why? Because of the next screen, this one:

The last thing I want, or my teens, is for their mobile phone number to go to all their Facebook friends - all 200+ of them!

The bottom line is our kids do want us involved - but in the right way. It truly can be done and is actually the only way to help our kids be incredible citizens online and offline...and stay safe the way you want them to be. Have a topic you want to me to talk about in a future post? Email me at media@pediatricsnow.com.

 

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