Your child has a need to be social and connected to friends at school and to family members. Much of this connection is online, where he’s also in touch with people he doesn't know. As the years go on, his tech connection will grow and new technolgies will develop leaving you further and further out of the loop. This creates an urgency for you to have a talk with him about being on social media and online.

Think it's not time to talk about it yet? Check out these few statistics from GuardChild, and find more online:

  • 90% of children ages 8 - 16 have seen online pornography
  • 21% of K - 2 kids have access to cell phones
  • 71% of teen girls and 67% of boys say they have sent sexually suggestive content to a boyfriend or girlfriend
  • 70% of kids ages 7 - 18 have accidentally encountered online pornography (often through a web search while doing homework)
  • The largest group of Internet porn consumers is children ages 12 - 17

WHEN & HOW

Kids are tech-savvy, but they are not as mature as you. This can turn his social media and online experience upside down. That’s why it’s imperative to have ongoing talks with him from an early age. Continue having these talks throughout the years as topics will change.

— Little Kids —

“Have you used the computer and the Internet today?”
“Are you planning on meeting up with kids on Club Penguin today? I’d love to see how that works.”

— Big Kids—

“Mrs. Smith told me Jennifer uses Facebook. Is that something you’ve thought of doing? Do you already have a profile? If so, I’d like to see it.”
“Let’s look at your text log today together. I’d like to see who’s been texting you.”
“Have you heard of sexting? Tell me what you think it is.”

— Teens—

“What did you write on Facebook today?”
“Any new chats recently?”
“Anyone text you today?”
“Have you seen this story [on sexting]? What did you think about it? What would you do if you were this child?”

WHAT YOU MODEL ONLINE

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says parents need to learn about the tech their kids love firsthand. There’s no better way than to have a profile yourself, according to the AAP as it will enable you to ‘friend’ your kids and monitor them online.

A good way to get your child to open up about his social media use or texting is to offer up casual conversations about what you do on social media and online, too. Talk about what you see on Facebook or texts you receive. Also, offer him the chance to teach you what he knows about different Apps and more. The AAP says to show your kids you understand how to use what they are using, and are also willing to learn from them about what you don't know.

The AAP recommends that computers stay out in the open at home. This helps you monitor how much time he spends online and you can also monitor what he’s doing.

THE WAY YOU ARE MATTERS

The way you handle yourself with your kids when discussing tough stuff is important.

• Stay calm
• Keep an open mind
• Don't lecture
• Thank your child for coming to you with questions
• Always take a moment to remind your child you care deeply about his well-being

The American Psychological Association says the following attributes will help you:

• Think about what you want to say: It's OK to practice in your head (and with another adult) what you want to say. A little advanced planning will make discussions easier — that way you won't have to talk off the top of your head.

• Keep talks age-appropriate:  There's no reason to talk over your child's comprehension. Use terms your child can understand

• Find the right moment: Best time to talk will be when your child can be the center of your attention and there aren't a lot of distractions. Consider taking a walk or just hanging out in his room.

• Know that sometimes there's no "right" moment: Be aware that tough subjects will come up on the fly sometimes, catching you off guard. Try not to fly off the handle, answer as easily as you can and make a mental note that you want to make more time to address the subject with your child.

• If you don't know what to say, take time: It's always OK to pause and say, "Let me give this some thought and we'll talk about this some more."

• One subject at a time: Try to create an environment where your child will welcome your talks. If you keep conversations easy going and friendly without judgment, you create an open environment where he'll feel free to talk.

• Keep your talk real but brief: Kids don't want you to talk on and on. They get things quickly and will accept what you say. 

• Find out what your child already knows: For example, your parent friends know that an older kid was found trying to sell marijuana to middle schoolers. Ask your child, "What have you heard about this?" Then listen more than talk.

• Share your feelings: Your kids see you're human when you share your feelings. Be a role model with your emotions.

• Be truthful: Lay out the facts as best you know without graphic details.

 

FURTHER READING

OnGuardOnline

Common Sense Media

Fatherly

Mashable

Scholastic Parents

Cyber-Safe Kids, Cyber-Savvy Teens: Helping Young People Learn to Use the Internet Safely and Responsibly
By Nancy E. Willard
Jossey-Bass, $16.95

Keeping Your Child Safe on Social Media: Five Easy Steps
By Anne McCormack
Persophone Books, $23