Let’s face it: most kids outpace their parents’ technical skills online midway through primary school. But while tweens and teens may know way more than their parents when it comes to navigating Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr and or Ask.FM, they don’t always show the experience, maturity and judgment to manage these powerful tools in responsible ways.
“Many parents are anxious about their kids spending time online, since they don’t feel capable of monitoring their activities or guiding them safely,” says Alissa Sklar, Ph.D., an educational consultant and writer who has worked with school board, community organizations and parent groups across the province on the issues of kids, technology, high-risk issues and bullying. “Whenever a story about cyberbullying, suicides or online risky behavior hits the news, parents freak out. But it doesn’t have to be that way.”
Sklar will lead a two-hour primer on social media networks called “Social media survival skills: A hands-on, no experience required crash course for parents” that is geared for parents of kids in grades 4 through 8 (secondary II). The workshop will be held at the McGill Faculty club on Tuesday, April 29, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Parents are invited to bring their own devices (laptops or tablets are best) in order to get a crash course in basic settings and best practices for the social media sites most popular with kids. Wifi access to the Internet will be provided.
Recently, Sklar spoke with the McGill Reporter about what parents can do to make their child’s Internet as beneficial and secure as possible.
Reserve your place for the April 29 seminar here or by contacting the McGill University Office of Leadership in Community and International Initiatives at 514-398-6961 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
What are parents’ biggest concerns about their children and the Internet?
Many parents are anxious about the various ways their kids can get into trouble online. After all, we hear so much in the media and anecdotally about things like cyberbullying, sexual predators, inappropriate pictures and sexting. Parents worry that their kids will quickly outpace them when it comes to technical skills online – after all, how many of them already turn to their kids when they need to install apps or set up a printer? But they also believe (quite correctly) that they need to help support and guide their kids to use these technologies safely and responsibly. Many just don’t know where to begin. There’s no real best practices or parenting wisdom when it comes to social media and cellphones.
How can we balance our concerns for our kids’ safety with their need for independence as they grow?
It’s important that kids develop skills to use digital technologies – after all, they will be inheriting a wired world. They key is to support and guide them through the use of tools like email or social media in age-appropriate ways. We need to teach them to use these powerful applications safely, responsibly and ethically, as well as productively and creatively. I often use the analogy of teens learning how to drive to explain this – we wouldn’t just send a newly minted 16-year-old driver out in the middle of a blizzard. They need to accumulate experience on the road in good conditions, take lessons, learn our rules, the highway code and the law. When we guide our kids online, we pass on our values, experience, judgment and maturity.
Some schools do teach some elements of digital citizenship, but we can’t count on this for several reasons. For one thing, if they do address online responsibility, they may not start this conversation until kids are older and have already spent a lot of unsupervised time online. Parents should begin setting common sense rules and guidelines about Internet and digital technology use as soon as kids are old enough to click or swipe on a tablet, smartphone or computer. Helping them control how much time they spend online, what personal information they give out, what they post about themselves and friends, and how they deal with other elements of “netiquette” can only be effectively handled when parents are also involved.
I don’t know anything about Facebook or other social media – how do I know where to start?
You don’t need to become a tech expert to supervise your kids. In fact, you can begin without any technical skills at all, simply by talking to them about controlling the amount of time they spend online, removing computers, smartphones and tablets from their rooms at bedtime, talking about what information they share online and who they can connect with on email, video chat or social media. While there is no magic age when kids are ready for email or social media accounts, you want to take into account their maturity levels and willingness to follow your basic rules. The next step is familiarizing yourself with some basics – setting up an email account, and doing some basic research to understand how accounts and privacy controls on the most popular social media networks are set up. You can even get your child to help you with this research – the time you spend together online can offer great opportunities to discuss these important questions. All of this takes some time and may push you out of your comfort zone, but this is what responsible parenting looks like in 2014.