We sat down with Stephen Balkam who is the CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute to talk about trust and civility in a challenging world. Learn Stephen’s best tips and tactics for keeping kids safe online.
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Key Takeaways from Tips for Keeping Kids Safe Online from an Expert
- Do simple things to create non-tech zones and non-tech time zones in your home.
- We have to curb our own addictions to technology. Be a good digital role model. Provide good examples on how often and how to use devices.
- When there are a thousand new apps uploaded everyday, it is important to talk with your kids. The digital safety conversation with your children is not one-and-done. It has to be an ongoing dialogue.
How can new connected toys affect how our kids are being seen online?
We are launching new research on November 16th at the conference at the Newseum in Washington DC; it’s called Connected Families. Parents feel and think about connected toys, wearables, and the “Internet of things” like it’s the first of its kind. I don’t think parents have ever been asked these questions. What are your hopes and aspirations for your kids but also what are your fears and concerns? Kids take to technology very naturally. They’ll walk into a kitchen and start talking to Alexa asking ridiculous questions and even barking orders at it.
We’re starting to see this new development where parents are complaining that their kids are acting towards them the way they would to an artificially intelligent box in the room. My hope is that in the future, Alexa, Siri, and the others will demand pleases and thank yous. I find myself almost unconsciously thanking my Alexa and she always says you’re welcome afterwards. However, those manners haven’t been encoded yet in children.
What are some of the things parents can do to set a positive example for their kids so that the outside world will not influence them to behave in a certain way?
First, we say to parents to check their own media and technology use. Comcast came out with a survey that showed, 52% of parents admitted that their kids had asked them to put their phones down at dinnertime. The kids are complaining to us that they can’t get their parents attention because they’re always on their phones or laptops. We have to curb our own addictions to technology. Provide a good set of examples, both in the how often we use devices and how we use them. Model good digital citizenship online.
What are common misconceptions parents have when it comes to giving a cellphone to their children?
We’ve seen this sudden drop in the age in which kids get smartphones. We’re finding kids in kindergarten showing up with mom and dad’s old iPhone. A lot of parents think “Oh at least this will be for safety, now I’ll be able to get hold of my child in an emergency”. There are plenty of phones or for that matter just tracking devices that you could use if that’s your main concern. Don’t hand your seven-year-old more computing power than NASA had to put someone on the moon back in the 60s.
What is your opinion about healthy dialogue with your kids?
The most popular download on our site is the seven steps to good digital parenting. Number one is talk with your kids. Keep that dialogue going. It’s not the birds in the bees conversation. It’s not one and done. You’ve got to keep it going. Number two goes back to being a good digital role model. When I talk to parents at PTA meetings I ask them how many of them use their phone as an alarm clock. And most of the hands go up and they have big smiles on their faces. I say “No, don’t do that”. The reason is if you use it as an alarm clock what’s the last thing you’re going to look at at night. And what’s the first thing you’re going to look at even before you get out of bed and brush your teeth? Kids come into their parents rooms and they see this. Have a closet downstairs. Make sure everyone is recharging it in the same closet. Turn off the router. Just do simple things to create non-tech zones and non-tech time zones in your home.
The other thing I suppose is it’s okay to say no. Check in and have that conversation. Do it in a dispassionate way, don’t get heavy-handed and yell. Have a reasonable conversation typically based on some kind of contract. We have one and there’s many out there that you can download. Look for family safety contract and sit down and figure out the rules of the road with your kids.