We are proud to publish this guest post about keeping kids safe in an online world by Mandy Majors & Kim Elerick, co-hosts of the nextTalk podcast.
When kids are little, we can fall into the trap of thinking “parenting the digital world” only pertains to teens with mobile phones.
But, digital parenting actually starts YEARS BEFORE your child actually has one.
First, think about how your kid is connecting with digital media right now. You could have a family tablet, you may allow your child to play mobile apps on your phone or maybe your child plays Nintendo Switch or other video games.
Once you identify how your kid is spending time online, think about parental controls and privacy settings. You can search your specific digital devices online to set restrictions and settings. This is an important tool, but there are loopholes.
What about content you may not agree with? For example, a shooting game on Roblox may be more violent than you realize. Parental controls won’t adjust for your views and opinions.
What about a kid on the playground telling your child what they saw online the night before? Your kid can be exposed without a screen being present. That’s what led to the start of our nonprofit. One of our children was told about pornography at the school lunch table when she was nine years old. No one had a mobile phone. It was just a graphic discussion of what a kid had witnessed the night before on his iPad, but it painted a sexual image in her mind.
We must think beyond parental controls.
That nine-year-old whose question led to the start or our organization is now eighteen! We’ve learned over the years that there is a solution that is built slowly over time. We define the solution as open lines of communication: a healthy dialogue with parents and young children where expectations and guidelines are clearly discussed, and a safe place of trust is built to talk about real world issues.
In fact, we’ve discovered the preschool and elementary years are a critical time to lay the foundation for this culture of open communication.
Think of a brick paver.
Parental controls are one brick, but we need to add more for a firm foundation. Each digital guideline that you implement when they’re little is another brick. As your child follows those guidelines, it creates new opportunities for open conversation. More bricks. As they learn to tell you what they’re being exposed to … each discussion is a brick. You continue to add more and more over the years to build that strong foundation. That’s when they may eventually be ready for mobile devices of their own.
We want to equip you with more bricks. With each one, you’re mortaring in another piece of the foundation to keep your kids safe online and establishing good digital parenting habits. Here are some of our top tips for digital parenting.
Digital Parenting Tips
Create Screen Guidelines
This seems so simple, but we didn’t grow up with anyone teaching us how to use cell phones so we often miss this important step. Here are some of our family guidelines:
- No downloading new apps without parent approval.
- No screens at the dinner table.
- No screens in bedrooms or behind closed doors.
- No screens at bedtime.
- No screens in bathrooms.
Have you ever taken a picture of the inside of your pocket by accident? Accidental photos like that create a perfect teaching moment! “Oh look, Mommy just took a picture of something by accident. This is why we don’t take phones into bathrooms or bedrooms because accidental pictures can be taken anywhere. And usually, we’re changing clothes in those places so we have to be careful.” Everyday moments create perfect opportunities to reinforce your guideline and explain the reason behind it.
Teach Kids What to Report
Because everything is shared online now, we need to have clear expectations of what we want them to tell us. Here are a few of our ground rules on reporting guidelines:
Any word or topic you don’t know.
If your child is curious about a sexual topic and they Google it, they will be exposed to pornography. To prevent that, we have to be their Google.
“Please don’t search online if you’re curious. You can get wrong or bad information. Instead, ask me.”
Any mean, bullying, threatening or violent language.
“If someone is calling you stupid or making fun of you, tell me.”
Anyone asking you for personal information like name, address, school, church, etc.
“If anyone asks personal questions, tell me.”
Anyone asking you to keep a secret.
“When you’re young, no one should ask you to keep a secret from me. If that happens, let me know.”
Anyone in a bathing suit or less.
“I don’t think all bathing suit pictures are bad, but right now, it’s our threshold. So, if you see anyone in a bathing suit or less, tell me.”
Anything that has to do with dating, kissing or marriage.
“If teddy bears get married on an app, let me know. Anytime you see or hear about dating, kissing or marriage, let’s talk about those adult topics.”
Being clear about your reporting expectations is essential in getting your kids to talk to you.
See Beyond the Screen
Technology is a great tool that can be used for educational and creative purposes. If we’re being real, it can also help us as we work from home and multitask. I mean, a movie is a good babysitter! That’s okay with a healthy balance, but we also need to see beyond the screen.
Get outdoors. Invest in quality family time without technology. Paint rocks. Go on a hike. Shoot hoops. Create chalk art in the driveway. Notice what your kids love and enjoy outside of screens and encourage that often. Remember, it’s not your job to constantly entertain them. Creativity for little ones is often the fruit of boredom.
Technology is changing how our kids are growing up. Instead of being overwhelmed or afraid, spend time building a healthy relationship with your child. Have courage and talk with your kids in age-appropriate ways. Set guidelines, explain what to report and see beyond the screen.
Charter Moms Chats
Mandy Majors and Kim Elerick are co-hosts of the nextTalk podcast, which has grown to be in the top five percent of over two million podcasts with listeners in more than 60 countries. nextTalk is a nonprofit organization keeping kids safe online by creating a culture of real conversation in homes, churches and schools.
Mandy has two teens and Kim has three younger children so the podcasts cover topics and conversations at different ages.
Mandy is a graduate of Indiana University, the award-winning author of TALK and Keeping Kids Safe in a Digital World and has been married to Matt for 22 years.
Kim is a graduate of the University of Hawaii, brings over 15 years of experience in radio production and as a morning show host and has been married to Charles for 20 years. She currently serves as the nextTalk director.
You can connect with Mandy and Kim at nextTalk.org.
Read More About Parenting in the Digital Age
- “Open Communication to Keep Kids Safe Online with nextTalk,” Mandy Majors, San Antonio Charter Moms, May 14, 2021
- “Family Self-Care Plan,” Erica Martinez, San Antonio Charter Moms, March 19, 2021
- “Fighting Cyberbullying in the Age of Distance Learning,” San Antonio Charter Moms, September 23, 2020
- “What Happened to Sleep Schedules?”, Emily Daniels and Lindsay Durham, San Antonio Charter Moms, July 27, 2020
- “Friend Tree: Draw Strength from Your Community,” Jeff Flores and Khalid Zakaria, San Antonio Charter Moms, July 14, 2020
- “The New Digital Parenting: Connections Over Conflict,” Emily Daniels and Lindsay Durham, San Antonio Charter Moms, July 9, 2020