Open Communication to Keep Kids Safe Online with nextTalk

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We are proud to share this guest post about open communication and digital parenting by Mandy Majors, founder of nextTalk.

One morning as we were getting ready for school, my daughter asked a question I wasn’t prepared for. It was highly sexualized. This was not a “where do babies come from” question. I didn’t know this “thing” existed until I was a nineteen-year-old college student. She was NINE!

I discovered another child had watched a sexual video at home and shared the graphic details at school. My fourth grader had been exposed to pornography.

I thought we had been responsible parents by not giving her a phone. We tried to protect her, but it didn’t keep her safe from online dangers.

That was the moment I realized parenting had changed. I felt like I had been punched in the gut. Why do kids have to grow up so fast?

nextTalk: A Mission to Help Parents

That was eight years ago, and I’ve been on a mission to keep kids safe ever since. I’ve written two books, started a nonprofit (nextTalk.org), spoken to thousands across seven states, written and produced a 9-week video study and co-host a podcast with 100,000+ listeners in 60+ countries. Most importantly, I’ve realized that when my kids were little, I could’ve been doing more to prepare them for what was ahead. I don’t want other parents to miss this like I did.

When I first started this journey, I needed to identify the new problem we face. We know that technology is impacting our kids, but what does that really mean? There are things like social media, apps, screen addiction and sharing nudes; we’re the first generation of parents to tackle these new challenges. There are also issues that have been around for years, but technology has changed them . . . like bullying, strangers, and pornography.

As I sought to find a solution to this overwhelming problem, I knew bubble wrapping (not allowing technology) failed because my child was still exposed. I also discovered that most monitoring products and parental restrictions had loopholes.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t use all of the tools that are available to us. Subscribe to the phone-monitoring apps. Set restrictions and parental controls. All, yes!

But the solution and first line of defense is: open communication. It’s about having healthy, on-the-go conversations about everyday questions our kids struggle with. Real issues in real time.

You can delay the phone, but you cannot delay the conversations.

An Opportunity to Teach Open Communication

So, how do we talk with our little kids without overexposing them? Let me give you an example by discussing a new issue we have to parent: nudes.

Our kids are growing up in a different world. Everything is snapped, posted and shared. Kids are now walking into bathrooms, locker rooms, dressing rooms, every “safe” space with a camera in their back pocket. Photos can be taken in locker rooms and posted to social media where there could accidentally be another undressed student in the background.

Parents have shared stories with me about eighth-grade girls saying, “If you haven’t been asked for a nude by now, you’re kinda lame.”

Our world is telling our baby girls that they should want to be asked for a nude because it validates their beauty, popularity, and desirability.

When our kids get manipulated into sharing nudes, I also want you to think about this. When we were growing up, pornography was a pin-up supermodel you’d never meet. Now, it’s also the kid sitting next to you in class. Can you imagine what that is doing to our kids’ brains?

How can we prevent our kids from sharing nudes? It starts when they are little.

Think about your preschooler barging into the bathroom with a diaper on, sippy cup in one hand, and your phone (or a tablet) in the other. He comes in shouting, “Mommy! Mommy!” because you get no privacy ever with a toddler, right?

As parents, we often miss this teachable moment with our young children. But now that we know nude photos are an issue, we can use moments like this to plant seeds.

Instead of overreacting to the bathroom incident or ignoring it altogether, you can use it as a teachable moment and calmly say to your child, “Did you know that phone takes pictures? Oh no! What if you accidentally took a picture of Mommy without clothes on? That would be awful! We never take pictures of people without clothes on.”

Planting a Seed

You just planted a seed with your preschooler for future conversations about nudes without exposing him to anything inappropriate for his age. You’re being proactive, not reactive. You’re not only planting seeds, you’re having preventive conversations and laying the groundwork for more detailed discussions as your child gets older.

Along with planting seeds, create clear guidelines. This seems so simple, but we didn’t grow up with anyone teaching us how to use technology so we often miss this step. We have a family guideline that no screens can be taken in bathrooms or bedrooms. If you create this guideline when they are little, it will be standard operating procedure when they get older.

Parenting the digital world is overwhelming. We want our children to have a simpler childhood. When I found myself wishing to move to a deserted island, I had to decide to face what was happening and actively find a solution to help my kids, instead of staying stuck in my frustration and anger. I found hope in open communication. Now, I don’t go to bed at night worrying about what my kids will be exposed to. I go to sleep knowing that no matter what my kids see online, hear on the playground or bus . . . they will come home and ask me. That has been so freeing!

Instead of being overwhelmed, spend that time pouring in and building a healthy relationship with your child. Look for teachable moments, plant seeds early, and set guidelines. I hope you’ll be empowered, as I’ve been, when you see open communication really does keep our kids safe!

Learn More about nextTalk on Charter Moms Chats

Watch Mandy Majors of nextTalk speak with Inga Cotton on Charter Moms Chats on Tuesday, May 18, 2021 at 2:00 PM Central on Facebook and YouTube.

Mandy Majors is the author of two awarding-winning books, Keeping Kids Safe in a Digital World: A Solution That Works and TALK: A Practical Approach to Cyberparenting and Open Communication; this blog post is based in part on the advice in these books. She is a graduate of Indiana University and founder of nextTalk, a nonprofit organization keeping kids safe online by creating a culture of conversation in families, churches, and schools. She’s been married to her best friend, Matt, for twenty-one years, and together they’re raising two teens in Texas. You can connect with Mandy on Facebook at mandymajors.author, on Twitter @mandymajors, and on the web at mandymajors.com and nextTalk.org.

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