LET’S FACE IT: the internet can be a nasty place. Between predators, malware, explicit content, and other bad actors, parents can find themselves in a never ending cycle of doom and gloom as they try to fend off every threat their kids might face online.
It’s a tricky situation without a perfect solution, and it can be tough to know where to start. There are parental blocks, antivirus software, kid friendly browsers, and the temptation to avoid the stress and ban the internet altogether. But Dave Lewis, a global security advocate at Akamai Technologies, says the most important thing actually has nothing to do with technology: it’s all about having an open conversation with your kids.
The framing of that conversation is key, Lewis says. When you’re talking with your children about the dangers of the internet, you should be engaging and non-confrontational. “Kids really are information sponges, so if you package it in a way that makes them feel like they’re learning something, you’ll get a better return on that investment,” he says.
Instead of throwing down all of the scary things that can happen once they log on, Lewis suggests parents act as positive guardians, putting the right tools in place to keep their kids safe while also teaching them how to do it themselves. That means being aware of where your children should be going at their age, which he says is important as kids become tech savvy earlier. “There’s no reason for a kid around seven to have a Facebook or Twitter account,” he says, “They don’t need that level of exposure to the world, they still need a chance to be kids.” (It’s also against Facebook’s Terms of Service.)
Kids also need to be aware of the dangers of responding to messages from strangers, and Lewis suggests parents ensure kids feel safe coming to their parents with concerns about those things, so they feel comfortable letting an authority navigate that situation in a safer manner. This is going to be even more important as more companies make products specifically for kids, like Facebook’s trying to do with its new Messenger Kids.