When my kids were small, they lived life blissfully unaware of any potential danger around them. They would run onto the road to chase a ball or climb a fence they had no way of getting down from. I worked really hard to keep them safe, and besides a few broken bones (which happened when I wasn’t looking!) I think I did a pretty good job
Now they are teenagers they are faced with new threats, which they remain similarly unaware of. They think they know about cyber bullying, sexting, pornography, identity theft and the like, but they really haven’t lived long enough to understand the full impact of any of them. With the same intention, effort and dedication I had when they were young, I am now focusing my efforts on keeping them safe online.
For me, keeping my kids safe online starts with open and continued conversation
Here are five questions that may help you start a conversation with your teen today:
1. Have you ever googled your name to see what comes up?
I ask my teenagers this question regularly for a few reasons. The main one being to remind them that anything they post online is easily accessible.
2. What is your favorite app?
Their interests online are constantly changing and it’s literally impossible to keep up without their help. I enjoy being taught about the latest Instagram updates from my 13 year old. He is my best teacher.
3. What should we be doing to protect your younger brothers / sisters online?
Older siblings are usually much more concerned about their brothers and sisters than we give them credit for. They also notice things we don’t, especially online. Asking for their input gives them the opportunity to use what they have learnt to help others.
4. What is the worst thing you have ever seen online?
We have to expect they will come across inappropriate content online. It’s not “if” it’s “when”. I think it is important to give teenagers a safe place to talk honestly. Be careful not to over react but work out solutions with them. They should never be punished for someone else’s online choices.
5. How do you respond to criticism or hate online?
The choices our teens make online determine whether they get more hate or less hate, more pornography or less pornography, etc….you get the idea. How they respond the first time they come across a challenge will make a great difference to where it leads them. Delete, block, report to an adult….three steps every teenager needs to be reminded of regularly.
Michelle Mitchell is the founder and CEO of Youth Excel, a charity which helps young people make positive life choices during difficult times. As a national speaker, Michelle has a unique ability to transfer years of knowledge and experience to people of all ages and professions. Her latest book Parenting Teenage Girls in the Age of a New Normal is out now and available globally. For more information vivist www.michellemitchell.org.
Image courtesy Olivia Stone, Freely Photos