February 11th was Safer Internet Day. Disney’s Club Penguin, the company I work for as the Corporate Citizenship Program Director launched “It Starts With You!” — an online safety campaign to teach kids, parents, and educators what they need to know about the topic. Wearing my “Mom” hat, I also used this as an opportunity to have another conversation with my 10-year-old son about internet safety. A conversation I once naively believed I only needed to do one time. I’ve learned since then that it’s a conversation I need to keep going as my son gets older and uses technology more frequently for everything from homework to having fun to staying in touch with friends and family.
So where does a parent start? At Disney and Club Penguin, we work with some incredible non-profit organizations whose sole missions are to educate kids and anyone in a position to influence kids how to stay safe online. We have an in-house team dedicated to online safety, and they’ve helped us come up with tips and tools for parents and kids to understand how to stay safe online. In this blog, I’m going to give you the tips you need to start the conversation with your kids. In my follow-up blog post, I’ll give you the information you need as a parent to help your kids navigate the online world safely.
One final thought before you address the following safety tips with your tween: Start the conversation asking your child what they believe the rules should be for each of these areas. A two-way discussion with your tween will be more engaging than a lecture. You may also find your child’s knowledge on the topic much greater or worse than expected.
1. Begin with the foundation — talk to your kids about being safe online with these tips:
- Keep your name, age, address, phone number and school top secret. Why? The person you are talking to online may not really be who you think it is. Would you want a complete stranger knowing your private information?
- Passwords are to be shared with parents — no one else. Why? Friendships change, and the friends you may have now may be different next week, next month, or next year. Ask them would you want someone you are no longer friends with to know your passwords? What might happen if they were mad at you about something?
- Pick user names that don’t give away personal information. Why? Like your full name and other personal details, anything that indicates who you really are is a poor choice. People may use your personal information against you.
2. Teach your kids to respect others just as they should in the real world:
- Always remember one of the Golden Rules of life — treat others as YOU would want to be treated. If you wouldn’t feel good about someone treating you that way then don’t do it. Be nice. Using a screen to hide behind so you can be mean is cowardly.
- Don’t use words that might offend other people. Swear words or words that could be considered mean towards a group of people should not be used.
- If you wouldn’t say it out loud, don’t say it online. Imagine your grandmother, favorite teacher or a parent is standing in front of you. If you can’t say it to their face, you shouldn’t be saying it anywhere else.
3. Tell your kids to ‘speak up’ when they have a problem — that you won’t be mad, that you are there to lend an empathetic ear if and when they want or need help:
- Say something to a trusted adult if you see something that makes you uncomfortable or someone says something that’s hurtful. Why? Content can be harmful, and bullying today can carry over to the online world. If it doesn’t make you feel good or makes you confused, talking it out will help and a parent can help you find solutions if you need one.
- If someone asks you for your personal information, don’t give it out. Why? This is not appropriate in the online environment — you just cannot guarantee that the person you are speaking to is really who they say they are.
- Tell your parents what you are doing online. Why? They want to know who you are talking to and what you are viewing in case you need help. They are there to be a guide.
For more information about online safety and to download tips and pledges for you and your tween, go to Club Penguin’s Safety Page. Remember, it starts with you!
What do you think? Do you have any additional tips you would discuss with your 8—12 year old? I’d love to hear from you below.
Woman and daughter image, © Eric Audras/Media Bakery Photo courtesy of Getty Images.