By Courtney Macavinta for Every Day Connected
As I travel the country working with middleschoolers and high school students to build their self-respect and spread respect for all, I also speak with hundreds of parents. And it’s no surprise that their top concerns are issues like cyberbullying, sexting and online safety.
Keeping kids safe used to be about curfews and “Don’t talk to strangers.” But now, savvy parents are quickly realizing that the Web -- and all the devices kids use to get online -- needs to be a part of the family rules too.
Here’s my advice to come up with your own set of Web family rules that will keep your kids better protected -- and give you some peace of mind:
1. Ask your kids what they think.Nobody likes rules just handed down to them -- and this makes getting compliance with the rules even tougher. Ask your kids: What are your friends or other kids doing online that you think is unsafe? When you’re online, are you ever worried about your safety? See what they say.
Then share your concerns, like: “I know that when you’re on social networks, anyone can talk to you, and I worry about people with bad intentions reaching out to you or trying to meet you offline.” Or “I don’t like cyberbullying either -- what can we do about it?”
Also mention any concerns you have about other online privacy issues -- like how hackers can steal identities or predators can lift personal information to try and harm your kids offline.
The bottom line: Get their ideas first for your family Web rules. They’ll have great ideas, and they’ll be more likely to buy into the rules if they help create them. Commit to yourself to listen to their ideas -- without interrupting or criticizing. At The Respect Institute, the No. 1 way kids tell us they feel respect is: “When people listen to me.” If you listen to them in noticeable ways every day, when your kids face a safety issue online, they will be more likely to open up to you for support.
2. Set the rules.With a quick Web search, you’ll be able to find many resources to help you round out your rules. Check out NetSmartz.org or IKeepSafe.org for tutorials and tips. Once your rules are set, talk them through with your kids. Ask your kids to comment on each one, pose questions and suggest changes. When the rules are final, post them where everyone can see them.
3. Decide on consequences.Again, have your kids do the work! Ask them what they think should happen if a rule is broken. Add your two cents. (As a parent, you always reserve your right to set the final boundary to keep your kids safe.) Then, write and post the consequences next to the rules.
Most important, create a space where your kids can ask you for help. We are all afraid of getting in trouble if we break the rules, right? But the goal here is to keep your kids safe. And that ultimately comes down to them seeing you as someone they can trust. So even though you’re all setting the rules together, let them know they are guidelines to keep them safe, and that if they ever break a rule or face a situation they don’t know how to handle, they can come to you. Let them know you will listen and you will hold off “freaking out” to support them. In the end, this kind of connection with your kids will go a long way to protect them.
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