On Having The “Internet Talk” With Your Kids
Thank you to Equifax for underwriting this conversation about family internet security
My six-year-old recently discovered YouTube. And I discovered the perils that lie in those pesky lists of “Related Videos.”
After launching a harmless cartoon from within the Angry Birds app on my phone or iPad, for example, he would very rapidly start clicking on fan-made videos and parodies, and the next thing I’d hear was a string of filthy language and/or violence blaring from God knows WHAT he was watching.
I removed the YouTube app; I employed what limited safe search options I could…but again, he could easily launch videos from within his favorite games, and then a few stray clicks later and he was in a untamed frontier of Not Appropriate Stuff. Since I’d selectively employed YouTube videos as entertainment or distraction for YEARS (we probably are responsible for at least 2 million views of the Sneezing Panda video alone), it wasn’t really fair for me to simply declare NO YOUTUBE EVER AGAIN.
So we had our very first Internet Talk. Our first talk about what’s appropriate…and why there are many, many things out there that are NOT. FOR. KIDS. Scary stuff. Grown-up stuff. I gave him a set list of channels and users he is allowed to watch (the official Rovio, Nick Jr., the Muppets, etc.). I emphasized my need to trust him to follow the rules – even if I’m not there and he happens to find my phone – and laid out the consequences if I found him ever going down the rabbit hole of videos that I had not pre-screened for him.
He now knows to check who posted the video before hitting play. If it’s not on our “YouTube For Kids” list, he clicks away instead.
This talk will be the first of many, I am sure, as kids’ Internet usage is pretty much a fact of life now. (My kindergartner’s reading homework is all done online, already.) Right now, I’m focused on protecting them from strange content, the way I talk with them about strange people. But before I know it, I’m going to be trying to protect them from themselves.
Is talking about the Internet the new Sex Talk? Are your kids mature enough and ready for social networking? Say No To Drugs And Also Strangers In Chat Rooms Asking For Your Address? Don’t drink and drive…or overshare on the Internet? And no, I don’t care what your friends’ moms let them do, one out of every 10 of you kids is going to get your identity stolen, and it’s not going to be you if I can help it SO HELP ME?
I think about this a lot already, ESPECIALLY as a parent who blogs and uses an array of social networks and shares quite a bit about my life online. I’ve learned privacy lessons the hard way. (I once had an angry blog reader post my home address in my comments section in a vaguely threatening way, and I was lucky to notice it right before checking out for the weekend.) I’ve made mistakes and redrawn my boundaries.
Much like the decision to talk openly with your kids about your history with sex, alcohol and drugs, I’m going to have to figure out how much to share with them about my relationship with the Internet. The good, the bad and the close calls with creepy people or identity theft or just plain sharing a liiiiiiittle too much with an audience that is much, much bigger than you realize, sometimes.
I’d very much appreciate hearing from any of you who have had these discussions already. How much freedom do you give your kids on the ‘net? Where does your trust end and your supervision (and nosiness) begin? What dangers have you focused on? What solutions have you come up with now that it’s not enough to keep computers out of their rooms, when they can get online via phones and tablets and video game consoles? Does your own Internet usage reflect the boundaries you’ve set for your kids or are you guilty of the occasional “do as I say, not as I do” type of rule-setting?
Thank you to Equifax for sponsoring this conversation on family internet security.