While there are some suggestions that show up on every internet safety list, like instructing your child not to give out personal information or their location via text or social media, the one safety tactic touted across the board is awareness. Parental awareness is the key to online safety.

The Spectrum of Online Risk

In June 2010 a report entitled “Youth Safety on a Living Internet,” compiled by a national task force on the subject—the Online Safety & Technology Working Group (OSTWG)—was sent to Congress. Focusing on child safety online and compiling findings about youth online risk it presented “the full spectrum of online risk” to parents, educators, and policymakers.[i] The study found that the key risks[ii] were:

  • Aggressive online behavior, including harassing and bullying peers, can more than double a child’s online risk
  • Those children most at risk offline are typically most at risk online as well
  • A child’s risk doesn’t lie in the programs or technology they use
  • Risk is better predicted based on a child’s home and school environment and behavior
  • No one program of technology has been shown to end a child’s online risk

This study, and research prior and since, attempt to give the public a fact-based approach to working with children online rather than preying upon our fears and trying to prompt a fear-based reaction to online, digital, and social media spaces. The idea is to be aware and involved, not afraid.

To Black Box or Not?

One approach some parents choose to take is to black box all media—blocking or cutting off a child’s access to all technology. Some utilize surveillance techniques based on certain words or filtered information without knowing the technologies and programs children are interacting with and through—which presents other issues. These tactics run the risk of placing children at increased risk of “victimization by adding public humiliation or making an example of them” among their peers.[iii]

Henry Jenkins, a professor at the University of Southern California, who has written extensively on topics in online and digital culture and was a researcher with the McArthur Digital Youth Project, told the OSTWG task force that “most young people are trying to make the right choices in a world that most of us don’t fully understand yet, a world where they can’t get good advice from the adults around them, where they are moving into new activities that were not part of the life of their parents growing up—very capable young people who are doing responsible things, taking advantage of the technologies that are around them.”[iv] For the most part children in online and digital spaces are acting with best practices, but with limited guidance.

Where Does That Leave Us?

Most parents understand the generational technology divide. They experienced it with their own parents, but the gulf is widening. While we were on a different plane than our parents technologically, our children have further surpassed us in this field. What is a concerned and involved parent to do?

  1. Gain context. That’s right. It’s time to put on your waders and delve into these spaces. Rather than sequestering our children from technology, which can place them at a disadvantage socially and technologically today and in the future, we have to be brave enough to dive head first into these spaces and learn how people, and, particularly, our children, are using them. Only then can we make active and informed decisions about limits, uses, and discipline regarding these media—be it Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or online gaming. Join these sites yourself. Try them out. Experiment.
  2. Use digital and social media with your child. This is a brilliant way to gain context. You can see how your child uses digital media. He or she can help you learn how to use it, or you can learn together. Then as issues come up, you are right there to address them.
  3. Pay attention. Online and offline, you can’t always be with your child every waking moment. Treating online events and concerns with the same attention you do the ones offline is vital. Ask them about things happening in their lives, be it at school, with friends, or online. Just like in offline spaces, you can be a part of your child’s online life without playing Big Brother. Let them know you are there and that you are interested, and they will come to you.

Parents want to keep their children safe. The best way to protect them and guide them in these spaces is with context and engagement. The best way to know how a child is using a particular media, why, and how to respond appropriately to it, is by using it, by gaining the perspective and experience needed to be able to support your child and make policy regarding certain media, even if it is not “our type of thing.”

Internet Safety Night

Don’t forget to join us at Liberty Traditional on November 5 for Internet Safety Night. This family event will be led by The Arizona Attorney’s Office. We’ll discuss a variety of topics and concerns on this issue from 5 – 6 p.m.

[i] Jordan, Amy Beth and Daniel Romer. Media and the Well-Being of Children and Adolescents. Oxford University. P. 252.

[ii] Ibid., 253.

[iii] Collier, Anne. “For kids’ sake, don’t ‘black box’ social media.” NetFamilyNews.org. June 5, 2015.

[iv] The Online Safety and Technology Working Group. “Youth Safety on a Living Internet.” National Telecommunications & Information Administration. June 4, 2010. p. 2.

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