boys at the computer

“Dad, we have to put band aids on all the computer screens!” my 9 yr old urgently declared. “Because FBI agents and other bad guys can sneak in at anytime. Even when it’s getting charged.”

Zacharie had just come home from a presentation on digital responsibility at school and, being a law and order type of 9 year old, 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.

I have all the accounts for them, they don’t know any of the passwords, and I use the accounts as a fun way to archive the randomness that children say a sort of cloud services provider. I’ve endorsed this kind of archiving for years (even though it’s a grey area in the Terms of Service limiting the age of social media users).

Despite all that, my digital leash is pretty tight.

They have shared access to hand me down laptops in the house, but they stay at the kitchen table. They each have their own iPad for gaming and watching Pokemon videos (grumble), but again those devices are left in the kitchen and are only used when my wife or I are around. While WiFi is usually left on and open around the house, my sons don’t know the password, so I can turn it off at anytime.

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 instead of being set free into the wilds of the web. So I’m grateful they go to a school that takes  digital responsibility seriously.

In Grade 3 my oldest had sessions about personal information. They were warned about websites that may ask for your name or age, about chatting applications, and all the ways that someone can find you with just a keyboard.

This year, as the proliferation of phones in pockets has started to spread, the lessons on digital citizenship included a more serious presentation (the instructor asked which 9 – 12 yr olds had Snapchat etc and then scolded them for breaking ToS laws) and a digital contract the kids were required to sign.

I’ve adapted the one provided by our school for you to use with your kids at home (click below 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.

digital contractAs my wife and I upgrade our gear, we have a drawer of old iPhones in our office. Zacharie has asked many times for his own phone, and while I’m confident he is learning proper online behaviour, I’m not so certain he understands what a megabyte is and can understand the difference between LTE and WiFi when it comes to a monthly bill.

For kids, the internet is a water fountain, something that is ubiquitous, something you can use whenever you want, and not have to pay for. That’s not quite reality, so once he understands the true dollar cost of ‘having the internet everywhere,’ he’s not getting a phone. Your mileage may vary.

If these contracts and my leashing seems a little heavy handed, I’d urge you to watch a few minutes of CBC’s This Is High School (the episodes are available in the On Demand section of TELUS Optik TV) and you’ll quickly see that it’s on social where it all goes sideways. Back in the day rumours were whispers in the hallway, now they are texts, tweets, and other shared media that have a longer, darker footprint.

Phones are everywhere, our kids are plugged in all the time, and without the skills to fully understand the power of the tools they possess. My son is just 9, he’s getting the rules of the game drilled in before he really starts to play, and I’m hopeful with a foundation of strong understanding of what the internet can do (good and bad) that once he starts using the tools on his own, he’ll be responsible.

Despite the lessons, the supervision, the contracts, all I can do is hope. Such is the life of a parent in a digital world.

What are the rules governing device usage and internet access in your home? How old were your kids when you let them go online? Do they have their own social media accounts? Do they use them? There are so many ways to tackle the rules of online behaviour, I’m always open to new strategies.

This post is sponsored by TELUS. I’m a member of #TeamTELUS and have received some products and services as compensation.

TELUS WISETELUS WISE is an educational program available to all Canadians free-of-charge to help keep their families and communities safer from online criminal activity such as financial fraud & cyberbullying.

Our team members volunteer as TELUS WISE Ambassadors to host in-person workshops at schools, community groups and non-for-profits. The aim of these is to discuss Internet and smartphone safety and security. You can book them here to conduct a session with your school or group.

Keeping a clean digital footprint isn’t just important for kids, it can reflect upon you as well. Here are some resources to seek out discussion points you can use to start a conversation with your kids. While you’re at, use these tips to clean your own footprint as well.


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