Any parent of a preteen knows these years come with a lot of challenges – from growing bodies and surging hormones, to attitudes, eye rolls, and a bristling need for more independence. Today, parents also face the new challenge of how to keep their preteens safe online.
Even if you don’t allow your child to use social media, they’re probably interacting with other kids online through their video game console, chat programs on their phone, or even a school message board. As soon as parents realize the potential threat, they start asking questions like:
How do I keep my tween safe online?
What makes my child a “good digital citizen?”
Are there expert recommendations or rules for preteens and screens?
Can I help my child make good online choices even when they’re away from me?
In HelloJoey’s “Screens Without Screams” kit, we look at the dangers of the digital world and how they can affect your preteen. We also talk to the experts about how to teach your child to make good choices online and how to set rules and limits that will help to keep your preteen safe on the internet.
Safety starts with you
If you’re familiar with our app, you know that here at HelloJoey, we believe your relationship with your child is one of the key components to parenting. According the experts, that relationship also defines how your child will interact with media. Caroline Knorr from Common Sense Media says, “It's been studied that having a positive relationship with your kids around media really does help your kids make better choices – and higher quality choices – that are more age-appropriate when the parent is involved and helps guide those choices.”
That means that simply talking with your kid about media and online content can make all the difference when it comes to their choices. Don’t know what to say? Try starting with:
How your child is interacting with video games like Fortnite or Pokemon Go
Which websites your kid likes and why
Why you choose particular shows or apps
Your child’s suggestions for rules about online behavior.
What values you have when it comes to media and why
“The key is having those conversations,” says Caroline Knorr. “Around the tween years is when they’re going to pretend that they don't care about what you have to say, but they always care what you say. Parents can still be extremely influential when they insert themselves in that conversation kids and media are having together.”
Creating a good digital citizen
For kids age six and up, the American Association of Pediatricians recommends not only having consistent limits, but also having “ongoing communication about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.”
The concept of “digital citizenship” is the way we’re helping our kids be safe themselves and create a world that’s safer for other kids. “Digital citizenship is really just about being a responsible person on the Internet,” explains Caroline Knorr. “It allows a child to think about the person on the other side of the screen.”
Being a good digital citizen isn’t just about making good choices online; it’s also about understanding how your actions can impact someone offline. Most parents don’t want their kids to become the internet trolls we’ve all learned to avoid.
Expect the unexpected
As all parents know, life is unpredictable, and even if you use ad blockers, walled-gardens, or other tools to protect your kid, there’s no way to block everything every day. To prepare for the unpredictable, think ahead.
If you start thinking now about how to address tricky topics like sex or drugs that might pop up – quite literally – you can figure out how to deal with them without shame and judgment, which might be your immediate reaction. Then, you can make a plan for how to talk about these issues in open, inviting ways that align with your family’s values.
Of course, there will always be some things we can’t prepare for, and that is where, once again, our relationships with our children become so important. When our kids trust us and are willing to talk to us about ads popping up or inappropriate comments in a chat, we can use our relationships as a buffer, increasing their resiliency.
Setting rules to keep your tween safe online
When it comes to creating a family media plan with your child, psychologist Dr. Ruth Burtman has practical, specific recommendations that are designed to keep your kids safe and create a culture that promotes respect both online and offline. She suggests discussing online rules and creating a contract with your child.
Creating that agreement with your child is a great first step, but Dr. Burtman reminds parents that we do still have a duty to monitor our kids as they are acquiring these new skills. The online world really can feel scary sometimes, and our kids still need us and their relationship with us to feel safe. It’s perfectly okay to tell your tween you’ll be checking their messages and online use in order to let them know if you see something inappropriate.
You can find more in-depth information about how to create a family media plan, including specific rules and guidelines recommended by Dr. Burtman in the “Screens Without Screams” kit. You’ll also learn more about:
the effect video games can have on your child’s brain
when and why to try a screen detox
the ways screens can impact your tween’s physical health
how co-viewing content can help you start conversations with your preteen
Want to learn more about “Screens Without Screams?” Start your path to a solid parenting foundation in just 10-minutes a day. Check out the HelloJoey app.