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On Having The “Internet Talk” With Your Kids

Apr30

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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?

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Thank you to Equifax for sponsoring this conversation on family internet security.

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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13 Responses to “On Having The “Internet Talk” With Your Kids”

  1. Shannon Apr 30 at 11:36 am Reply Reply

    My 9 year old LOVES youtube and I have to be very vigilant, and keep reminding him about what is allowed when clicking over to related videos. He is also learning to play online strategy games with this older brother, and some of those have online multiplayer versions and I have yet to figure out a way to explain that the people playing the games online are not his friends. It is sad, but a fact of life.

  2. Sarah Lena Apr 30 at 11:46 am Reply Reply

    Gah, this is so hard. We have an extra interesting plot-point because we are a “bonus” family that splits time. Our eleven year old (my stepson) has his own laptop in his bedroom at his other house. His room is in a separate “wing” of the house, and he is often left to his own devices. He watches YouTube there – we hear about what he’s seen – and we just have to hope he’s not getting in too deep.

    We do what we can. His mother was adamant that he have his own Facebook account when he was nine years old. (NINE.) She said it was safe because she would approve his friends. Within two clicks, I could tell you where he was the day prior because his friends? All used FourSquare. (AT NINE YEARS OLD.) So they were checking in. So we said no. We “do” internet; we know how dangerous it can be.

    Now that he’s older, we’ve talked about FB coming up again. He’s a little more mature, and he deserves a way to be social when he’s at our house (i.e. away from his neighborhood friends). But still. SO SCARY, MAN.

  3. emah Apr 30 at 11:48 am Reply Reply

    I have no useful advice, but another question. We made it to my daughter’s second birthday with no tv, because we are rule-followers, and she was the first, blah, blah, blah. And then we had another baby 3 months ago, and have started letting her watch some shows on the kindle fire while i feed the baby (because otherwise nursing involves a lot of yelling about NOT CLIMBING THAT

    • emah Apr 30 at 11:51 am Reply Reply

      And she posted that with a stray grab mommy’s computer. Anyway, I was wondering if anyone had any good advice on a)turning off one-click ordering on the kindle without turning it off everywhere, or b)explaining to a 2-year-old that pushing buttons costs mommy money.

  4. JMH Apr 30 at 12:00 pm Reply Reply

    As a Technology Applications Teacher in an elementary school, I strongly suggest you check out Common Sense Media (http://www.commonsensemedia.org) They have many resources for parents and teachers about how to raise a good digital citizen (which goes beyond Internet Safety) You should also share this resource with your schools since they offer a great (free!) curriculum. I have used their resources for years and they are great; they are age appropriate and are updated often as technology is constantly changing.

  5. JMH Apr 30 at 12:04 pm Reply Reply

    Also….I have KINDERGARTENERS who have Facebook accounts!!! Some are secret (a brother/sister/cousin/friend from the bus, etc created one for them and their parents have no idea) but many of them got an account from their PARENTS!! Seriously??!! Makes me crazy!

    BTW-If I overhear a student talk about their “secret” FB page, I always tell the parents. I also report the page to FB and FB usually takes  it down pretty quickly.

  6. Neon Tiki Tribe Apr 30 at 3:09 pm Reply Reply

    Its a tough thing to decide on at times.  Your children have to be aware of it and understand about certain areas out in the world. 

  7. Karen Apr 30 at 6:29 pm Reply Reply

    Emah just let her watch some Sesame Street and Dinosaur Train. Don’t make your life more complicated than it needs to be.

  8. Jill May 01 at 6:49 am Reply Reply

    Great topic:) We haven’t quite gotten there yet with our 5 year old but I know the day is coming and I think about this issue with bewilderment a lot. There is SO much that could go wrong. This might be a good topic for Chris Jordan to write about to give us her take.

  9. David May 01 at 11:58 am Reply Reply

    Well, the sex talk is still the sex talk but the internet is another important talk. The frustrating thing is going to be that our children will be leaps and bounds ahead of us before we know it technology wise. I’ve been playing on the world wide web through bbs systems using modems and landlines back in 1993 when I was in grade school. Twenty years later I’m still consistently blown away by how fast technology progresses. With an 8 months old thats already stealing my iphone and stealthfully flicking my ipad, I know its just a matter of time before she’s completely immersed in the computer/tablet world. Kids will discover the ‘more intense’ arenas of the www through their friends at school so its inevitable and if you raise them well they’ll know whats right and whats wrong. And whats funny and whats in poor taste. Plus, kids should be running around outside and enjoying being a kid! Technology has its place but so do books and family time.

  10. Marnie May 03 at 3:48 pm Reply Reply

    I work in Computer Security, and highly recommend http://staysafeonline.org from the National Cybersecurity Alliance. They have both discussion talking points as well as a full curriculum leveled by ages. The thing I like about it is that it’s not just about protecting yourself online, it’s also about how to be a good “internet citizen:” understanding that once you put something online, it stays there, so other people can see it for a very long time; touches briefly on cyberbullying; why passwords are important; and, in general, it encourages kids to speak to a parent or adult any time they’re not sure or feel “funny” about something that they’ve seen online. I’ve delivered the curriculum in several classrooms of varying ages, and while the topics that the kids bring up are different by age, the message about being a good digital citizen seems to resonate pretty well with them all.

  11. Monica May 04 at 10:06 am Reply Reply

    This is definitely an area that is difficult to navigate. A friend recently had her 10 year old come home from a birthday party asking why a woman would put a penis in her mouth. Yep. She said no to the sleepover portion of the party, but let him go to the bday party unattended (after all, he’s ten). I remember a classmate sneaking a playboy in his backpack in 2nd grade, but even so, that is a far cry from what can be accessed online. And these talks are hard, because by bringing it up, by educating and arming them, you are stripping their innocence away, and that is not easy even if it is necessary.

  12. Yet another voice May 09 at 5:54 pm Reply Reply

    So I was looking over my daughter’s homework, and I noticed it still had tracked changes in it, so I opened Word to show her how to get rid of it. And in recent documents was her neuropsych evaluation. “Oh,” she said, “I saw my name on that so I read it through.” She’s 13. So, yeah—it’s the internet and it’s the whole damn ease and transparency of computers. Everything is just so easily accessible. It’s like under your parents bed is everywhere. I think the more you can be open with them early enough that you have a conversation with them about it, the better. So there is never the SHOCK of it. But there is no easy answer, of course, because there is always something you don’t want them to know about.

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