Before giving them access to social media or their own device, it’s important to talk about internet safety for kids. Regular and casual conversations can help your student develop healthy screen time behaviors before they even start creating accounts on social media.
It can be tricky to know where to start the conversation, so we asked 5 experts to share their best advice for talking to elementary students about online safety.
1. Arm your child with the knowledge to make good choicesKazia Conway, Carlson Law Firm
Elementary aged kids spend an average of three hours a day online. Therefore, constantly monitoring your child’s online activity can be time-consuming. The best protection from online predators is to arm your child with the necessary knowledge to make good choices. In addition to setting basic rules about internet access, it is more important than ever that parents begin having open and honest conversations with their children about the dangers that lurk on the internet-particularly in seemingly innocent apps.
Even gaming apps have messaging features that can be used to reach elementary aged children. These dangers no longer just begin and end at sexual predators, but also includes bullies; those wishing to indoctrinate children with hate, bigotry, and racism; dangerous challenges; and games that promote self-harm. Parents should be aware of the types of dangers that lurk on each platform their child uses. Conversations of online safety should be specific, clear, and to the point.
The conversations don’t have to be awkward or uncomfortable for you or your child, nor should they be a one-time sit-down. Discussing online safety should begin before you hand your child an internet-ready device and continue periodically through casual conversation. Use recent news reports about predators, bullies and dangerous games, and challenges to highlight the importance of making good choices online.
And finally, encourage your child by letting them know that you trust them. Through having open communication with your children, they will trust that you won’t revoke internet privileges if they come to you with something that makes them uncomfortable or confused.
2. Start building a planJosh Ochs, Smart Social
If your children are young, it might be a good time to start working on a 10 year plan with them. It doesn’t have to be anything concrete when they’re 6 or 7, but the foundation should be laid and it should come into sharper focus as they get older. What clubs do they want to participate in during middle school? What sports do they want to play?
For some school systems, students are introduced to competitive sports by the 8th grade, if not sooner. If you and your child are serious about getting into a sport, it should start now. If they want to go to a private high school, they need to be building a portfolio of accomplishments in middle school by involving themselves in clubs, teams, the wider community, etc. All of that can start even before they get to middle school.
Before giving your student their own device, teach your children that schools are looking for students who will be active and productive, and how you appear on social media needs to show that off. It doesn’t matter what your friends think of a photo, it’s what a future college/employer might think that matters the most. It’s important for the content to approximately reflect the image you want employers and advisors to see. When in doubt, make sure your posts have a little bit of gratitude and/or positivity. This will ensure you are seen in the best light when opportunities come your way.
3. Discuss what is ‘real’ online and what is not realElizabeth Malson, Amslee Institute, @AmsleeInstitute
I’ve seen first graders with their own smartphones, and given the accelerated advancements in digital technology, it’s vital we teach current and future generations about online safety. First, discuss what is ‘real’ online and what is not real. For younger children, you can use Skype to chat with grandma as ‘real’. To teach children about automated content, you can show them cartoons, animations, memes, and advertisements. A child friendly comparison would be reading a book about airplanes (real) versus a Dr. Seuss book about fish (not real).
Once the child has a basic understanding of real versus imaginary, share the do’s and don’ts on working with a computer and various websites.. It’s important to explain why the rules are needed. For example, children should learn not to share their address or where they go to school because they are talking to strangers. For older children, prepare them for being online alone and talk about online predators. Without using scary language, teach children they do not have to talk to or answer questions while online. When talking with children about online strangers, it is good to remind them who they should talk to and identify those in their lives that aren’t strangers. Reinforcing who they can talk with while online helps keep the conversation positive.
Parents have a lot to manage and it’s easy for elementary aged kids to get several hours of unsupervised screen time a day. For early elementary aged children, take advantage of online programs and apps with child specific content or setting options that enable family friendly content. Preschool and Kindergartners can spend time on PBSKids, Starfall, or ABC Mouse. For K through 5, ABCya offers free educational games designed by teachers. Khan Academy is a favorite site that is an appropriate option for any school-aged child.
4. Use visual reminders to teach the permanence of social mediaJulia Simens, MA in Clinical Psychology
Parents need to realize that their children will become “screenagers”. Most parents have some artwork or written work from their child’s early years in school. Bring it out and share it with your child. Do they like it? Would they be pleased or embarrassed if their classmates saw it now? How would they feel if their teacher saw it? Do they have to defend it? This process opens the door to talk about how social media is your brand and it can stick around for a long time. Usually, this visual reminder is a wake up for your child even if they are pleased with their past work.
5. Demonstrate how fast information spreads on social mediaJustin Lavelle, PeopleLooker, @PeopleLooker
Demonstrate the power of social media sharing. We see parents demonstrating the power of social media sharing all the time, especially on Facebook and Twitter. These parents take a photo of themselves holding signs saying, “I would like to get X amount of shares to prove to my child how fast things spread on the internet.” You can do this, too, or show your child the number of shares other parents have received.
Another way to demonstrate how fast comments, pictures, and information spreads is by providing your children with video clips from YouTubers sharing their positive and negative experiences from going viral–some of them are life-altering. Giving you children a face to someone who has been affected by Internet sharing hammers down the importance of staying safe and respectful on social media websites.
Conversations around digital safety need to start happening at a young age and one discussion isn’t enough. Use real-life stories to demonstrate the consequences of making mistakes online with your children. Model positive screen time behaviors and help your child learn how to decipher what is real and what is not on the internet.
What are your best tips or conversation starters for talking to younger students about digital safety? Let us know in the comments below!