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How to Start a Digital Dialogue with Students

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This is great info, thanks for giving me some ideas on how to start a dialogue with my teen!

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Sharon M.

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Josh's presentation about social media was unbelievably fantastic. Our students learned so much about what kids should and shouldn't be doing. The fact that it is such a thoughtful process made it all worthwhile.

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This webinar is a very helpful eye-opener on the apps that are popular with my students.

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Irene C.

Educator Webinar Attendee

How to Start a Digital Dialogue with Students

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How to Start a Digital Dialogue with Students  an Expert Guest Blog by SmartSocial.com

Teenagers are notorious for not speaking to adults. Safety experts from our Digital Citizenship Conference share their best tips.

Key takeaways from students panel

  • Show students they can bring questions or problems to you
  • The earlier you start having a dialogue about the Internet, the easier it will be to build on that later on when it really matters.
  • Teach “socio-emotional” skills
  • So much of kids’ world is on the Internet now that part of preparing them is to teach them how to deal with emotional or uncomfortable situations that will invariably come up.
  • Give room to make mistakes
  • That’s how they learn. Trying to have complete control over their Internet use is probably futile, anyway—they can almost always find a way to access it when they’re away from your supervision. More importantly, if they try out different things online and problems arise, it creates a teachable moment.
  • Learn what safety features are available on different sites and apps
  • The SmartSocial.com Good and Bad Teen Apps Guide is a great resource.
  • Let your students teach you
  • It builds confidence in them to be able to show off their knowledge. It also builds on the trust they have in you as someone with whom they can have an ongoing dialogue about the digital world.

Tips on how to start a digital dialogue

Connecting with kids offline on an emotional level is so important. -Deborah Reisdorp
Deborah Reisdorph headshot
Deborah Reisdorph
Executive Director
B.A.R.E.

I learned from my daughter when she was very young that I had to change the way that I spoke to my children. During the drive from work to home, I had to soften my countenance. When I replied "What?" to my daughter’s "Mom, mom,” I would be met with silence, or "Mom, are you angry with me?" "No, what makes you think I'm mad at you?" She said it was my tone, so I had to say, "Vanessa, you have to show me when I'm doing this because I'm just not seeing it."

So she would touch my arm or make a comment when I was doing exactly what she said I was doing. This changed my life with my child. After that if she was bullied in high school by a teacher, a coach or anyone else, I was the one she came to. Connecting with kids offline and on an emotional level is so important.

For example, tell them what their name means. Why did you give them that name? Every parent gave their child a name for a reason. My 32-year-old still likes to hear about the day she was born. That is the connection that lets you talk about the important issues.
Deborah Reisdorp

Jennifer Puckett headshot
Jennifer Puckett
Child Safety Liaison Officer
eModeration Limited



When talking to parents and educators, I always emphasize the importance of listening to their kids—sitting down and asking questions and showing them that you do not know everything. You are human.

So let them show you or talk to you, because really listening to them is vital starting at a very young age. When the time comes that they need to come to you, it makes such a difference if they know they will feel safe, trusted, and respected.
Jennifer McChesney Puckett

When I show that I want to learn something, teens are very excited and more apt to talk to me. -Dr. Susan Finely
Dr. Susan Finley headshot
Dr. Susan Finley
Adjunct Professor
Santa Monica College

I start the digital dialogue with students by asking a question, and I will generally say, "Hey, I heard about this. Can you guys tell me a little bit about it?" When I show that I want to learn more about something, they are very excited and more apt to talk to me about it and open up, because they are showing me that they have the expertise.

And, in reality, they do. It is my job to be open with them and show them socially, "Yeah, you can come to me. Technology, you have it, but socially I can show you what is appropriate." We’re developing that rapport. I also embarrass myself and I’m okay when they laugh, because we are laughing together. When I can share a funny story about myself, then they are more apt to share something they are going through. It is about creating that rapport—and with kids, it is also about making it safe.
Dr. Susan Finely

I have a quick story about this. I was once an online expert and community manager, responsible for the kids having fun in a global virtual world for teens and tweens. Just like Susan was saying, when I started there, the kids were testing me because they knew this world way better than I did. So here comes this new person, and they would call me a "newb." We all know what a newb is, right? Not exactly the best name. And I would say, "Yeah, I am. I don't know anything. Teach me.

”I could tell that they were taken aback by that and my status. My online handle was actually “Jennifer the Newb” for the first three to four months that I was there. And guess what? A year later, those same kids were saying, "Hey Jen, you have a second? I'm having a problem with school," or "I'm having a problem with my parents," or "There is a kid on this game that is really bothering me, what do I do?" None of those kids ever met me—everything was online—but because I was able to become vulnerable in front of them and allow them to see me as a human even behind a screen, they trusted and respected me later on when they needed me.
Jennifer McChesney Puckett

Mercedes Samudio digital dialogue
Mercedes Samudio
Parenting Coach
The Parenting Skill

So I think we agree the idea is to build that relationship with a student, whether that be through a connection with him or being vulnerable with him. My final thought would be to also set up the environment so it is safe. Sometimes no matter what we say, we are adults and they know that. So let them know that you are going to keep them safe as an adult.

Let them know that when they need to know things or need help, you are willing to help them, and at the same time as educators and professionals, there are certain things that we do have to report and maybe take to another level. Let them know that beforehand. Talk to them so that they are not afraid of telling you things by saying, "Look, as the adult there are certain things that I have to do, and let me tell you what those are. Outside of that scope, we can talk about x, y, and z." I think being honest is best, and let them know that you can still talk to them about a lot of stuff.

Connect with them in an honest way.
Mercedes Samudio

What is a great way to set younger students off on the right foot in the digital world, and be realistic but also protective?

No site is worth your time or energy if it is not going to try and protect your kids. -Jennifer McChesney Puckett

Great question. Be genuine, as we have talked about, but be memorable. Did your mother ever say anything that you still think about all the time? Mother always said, “Think before you do.” Well, think before you do is something we hear teachers say frequently. It's on a poster; it is embedded in our brain. Now it’s also “think before you click.” There are a number of messages you want to give your child, so having a little quote to remember helps you say that. Let me give you a few acronyms that help: (1) PRIDE: Positive Responses Influencing Engagement. Every post should be created with pride. (2) TMI. Yes, it is often “too much information,” but the TMI acronym helps us remember what we need to cover with our youngest ones who start on the Internet whether at two or 16. T is time spent on the device and the time spent away from the device. Too much time on the device is never a good thing. Time management is a principal we need to teach by role modeling and by teaching. M is the method we employ to use it wisely—helping them to understand privacy settings, whether an app requires my location to be disclosed every time I use it, and other methods I need to know about being online. And I is about information, the content. Is the information I am posting a smart decision, knowing that it is never private even though it may seem private?
Deborah Reisdorph

I would just say to get them excited about social media as opposed to scared. Maybe talk about researching different things that they are interested in. There have been some amazing things that people, even kids, have done on social media: fundraising, joining organizations, connecting with people across the world. We get them interested in all of these great opportunities that the Internet has created for people. These kids are growing up as the Internet generation, so when they come into that age of using the Internet themselves, it is not the big bad "here are all of the things that we cannot do." Present it as a world of "here are all of the changes that you can create within this world of technology" so that it is a new beginning for them.
Dr. Susan Finely

Common Sense Media is a fantastic resource. They do all of the work for you and kind of tell you what it is that you are looking for in terms of everything, whether it is TV, movies, the Internet, games, online communities...that can certainly help you. Also there is a really exciting new company called codeSpark.

I don't know if your children are into coding, but this company—I used to work with the founder and CEO—and he and his new partner are developing games to teach kids how to code. And I think it is a fantastic thing and a safe environment. Find things that you guys can do together so that again, they are comfortable with the idea of you being there with them as someone who can help them.

Separately, coming as someone who spent countless hours building filter mechanisms, safety tools and monitoring systems in those days for kids and families, make sure that whatever site you are going to, you as the parent check and make sure that they have certain kid-safe seals and there is a very easy-to-find safety page for both the parents and the kids to understand. No site or game is worth your time or energy or money if they are not going to take care of your kids.
Jennifer McChesney Puckett

I would add one thing too when you are talking about kids who are moving into that phase. I actually tell parents all the time to struggle with them. If they want to get on a site that you have never been on, give kids a trial period. Say, "I am going to give you a month to get on this, and you can do whatever you want. We are going to figure this out together.” Even if you know as a parent what kind of mistakes they are going to make—because I think that by knowing our kids or the students we work with very well, we have that foresight to kind of know what they are going to get into. So tell them, "I am going to give you this period—a month, whatever it is—to make the mistakes and do what you need to do, but then we are going to figure out what limits we need to set."

A lot of times students don't know their own limits until they test them, right? We need to help them find those barriers. If they mess up, you can say, "Wow. It looks like you are having a really hard time with that. Let me help you do it this way."

Talking to them in that respect I think helps with this digital dialogue and helps them in the long run. Yes, as soon as the kid gets on social media, they are probably going to post the wrong thing. Know that that is just kind of part of the process.
Mercedes Samudio

Make it fun. Make it fun for them and when they do it the right way, reward them with positive reinforcement. Make it a really good experience for them, and it will continue to be fun for everyone involved.
Dr. Susan Finely

There is also an app, MySocialSitter.com, for the younger ones. It does filter their activities online when they do favorable texting and such; it will give them rewards such as a card for Toys R Us. The young girl that created it was cyber bullied online and she wanted to protect younger kids. You have to start young with that app so that they use it.
Deborah Reisdorph

Last tips...

Your relationship is what is really going to shape who teens are online. -Mercedes Samudio

I would say that the best question to ask your child no matter what age they are is, “What is your digital footprint?” And take the opportunity to teach them what a footprint is if they don't know it, because a 2-year-old knows what footprint is, and digital footprints go all the way to us as adults.
Deborah Reisdorph

I would say just to encourage your children and to say that they are the transformation, they are the ones that are creating the future in the world. This is all new for everybody. The fact that we are all here today is great. I commend all of the parents especially, because it is not easy for you or your kids. I mean, for me half of my life was digital and half of it was not. For your kids, their whole life has been digital.

That's not easy. So we have to take that into consideration too. And for the parents, I know that it’s probably very, very difficult because it is new ground for everyone. But I would still encourage you to make it exciting and to look at all of the entrepreneurs and all of the changes and differences that social media has created in our world, and get them excited, because there is probably more good in the world because of social media networking than bad. So get them excited about it.
Dr. Susan Finely

I would say, “Be the change that you want to see.” I know that I am probably preaching to the choir. because you guys are all here. But if you want your kids to be a certain way, don't just say it and then do something different. Put your own phones down. Don't spend the hours online when you get home and you are tired.
Jennifer McChesney Puckett

My final one would probably be to get to know your kids—whether it’s the kids that you work with, the kids in your home or the kids in your community—because that relationship is what is really going to shape who they are online. And I think all of us have said that that offline relationships are going to be really beneficial when they run into barriers online.
Mercedes Samudio

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Quotation marks

This is great info, thanks for giving me some ideas on how to start a dialogue with my teen!

StarStarStarStarStar

Sharon M.

Parent VIP Member

Quotation marks

Josh's presentation about social media was unbelievably fantastic. Our students learned so much about what kids should and shouldn't be doing. The fact that it is such a thoughtful process made it all worthwhile.

StarStarStarStarStar

Director of College Advising

Educator Webinar Attendee

Quotation marks

This webinar is a very helpful eye-opener on the apps that are popular with my students.

StarStarStarStarStar

Irene C.

Educator Webinar Attendee

Learn more

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