“Dad, we have to put band aids on all the computer screens!” Zacharie urgently declared.“Because FBI agents and other bad guys can sneak in at anytime. Even when it’s getting charged.”
My son had just come home from a presentation on digital responsibility at school and, being a law and order type of kid, he fully bought in to the warnings issued. After explaining to him that the FBI were actually the good guys, he continued.
“You’re not supposed to have Facebooks, Snapchat, or Twitter, unless you’re over a certain age, daddy.”
Those rules have been a little fluid in my house. My sons have been online since before they were born. I made a digital land grab to get Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, and website addresses for them early on.
They are @zacharie and @CharlieChooch on Twitter, @iamzacharie and @iamcharliechooch on Instagram, and there are email accounts and Facebook pages too. I have the passwords, I control the content, but the accounts are there for when they’re old enough.
Zacharie has just turned 11, and that time is coming soon.
HOW TO GET YOUR KIDS ONLINE SAFELY
As with everything controversial in my parenting career, I don’t lock things down around my sons, I leave things open for discussion with age appropriate ground rules. I don’t want my kids sneaking under the sheets to access media, I want them to be able to use it and ask questions when they don’t understand something, and for me to lean in with advice when necessary.
I want my sons to be internet smart, to have access to the world at large – in a measured manner, and to learn good habits. Our job as parents is to give our kids the tools to handle things on their own, and that’s my approach.
And their school takes it seriously as well. That’s why there are digital citizenship lectures each year, and the kids are required to sign digital behavioural contracts.
I’ve adapted the one provided by our school for you to use with your kids at home (click here for a PDF copy). It covers everything from internet security to copyright to cyberbullying. It dictates that learning how to use the internet is a collaborative process and behaving properly online is a moral and ethical responsibility.
WHERE TO GET THE TOOLS
It starts with conversations. You need to be the one your kids turn to when they have a tough life question. Small conversations everyday are how you build trust. My sons and I talk about politics (Trump), social issues (gay and transgender), their changing bodies (puberty), and how they interact with their friends (bullying) on a daily basis.
Often it’s on the walk home from school. I’ll have one scoot ahead while I get serious with the other. It’s not an interrogation at the kitchen table, it’s just real talk about real issues to give my sons the confidence to be themselves. It’s a tool I give my sons that not every other parent is as proactive about.
As parents, we are often the first to hear from youth about cyberbullying. There are resources here to help you with online slang, how to manage your child’s digital footprint, and what to look for to recognize bullying.
STOP CYBERBULLYING DAY
This conversation couldn’t be more timely. June 15 is Stop Cyberbullying Day a day to stand together and take a pledge to simply, be kinder. We call it cyberbullying, but it really is still just bullying. You may feel power through the anonymity of a keyboard, but it’s still bullying.
Have the conversation with your kids about online behaviour. Sign the digital behaviour contract, and then take the TELUS Wise Digital Pledge at TELUS.com/endbullying and TELUS will donate $1 to support #EndBullying programs across Canada.