Of course it’s not the only thing – but if you do any research at all about online safety for kids, you will notice quickly that nearly every piece of credible research and guidance emphasizes the following suggestion:
Establish open, honest, regular communication with your kids.
Talking to kids about their online experiences shows them that you care about their interests, and want to understand what’s important to them when it comes to their digital life. Building a strong connection with your kids and talking regularly about online safety issues is truly one of the most valuable actions a parent can take to keep their kids safe online.
Intuitively, it makes sense that if kids are comfortable sharing with their parents about their experiences, fears and worries, they will be safer online (and everywhere). This is also backed by research. In fact, research shows that having a “high conflict” parental relationship puts teens at higher risk of dangers such as online sexual solicitation, according to the study Preventing Online Sexual Victimization of Youth:
“Alarmingly, teens rarely inform their parents when they receive sexual solicitations online. Finkelhor et al. (2000) reported that only 25% of youths who received an online sexual solicitation informed a parent. Even more concerning, Livingstone and Bober (2005) report that only 7% of parents were aware that their teens had received sexual comments online. Many youths are afraid that their computers will be taken away from them if they disclose receiving inappropriate messages.”
Although most parents desire a close connection with their kids and teens, it’s not always easy or simple. After all, assumptions about child development and parenting methods have changed dramatically over the last few generations. Our own parents may have not had the skills to foster a trusting connection with us as we were growing up.
It’s no wonder that (some days) having a great relationship with our kids can sound like a pipe dream.
“Just five minutes of expressing interest in your child will do more to build your relationship with them than five months of trying to get them interested in you.” –Dr. Robert C. Crosby
Asking your kids questions related to online safety is a simple and straightforward way to build trust, connection, and simultaneously get them thinking about online safety. Here are some of other benefits:
- Helps them develop critical thinking skills
- Allows them to share more of who they are
- Supports language development
- Role models how to interact socially with others
Whether during a car ride, before bed, or at the dinner table, here are some interesting questions you can ask your kids to get the conversations rolling. You’ll be amazed at what a lively discussion you can kickstart as you find out about what your kids think and know (and allow you to share your own wisdom with them!)
- Pick your moment: ask a question when you can see that the kids are in an open, talkative mood (and don't bombard them with questions, which can feel like an inquisition!)
- For extra fun and input, try asking a question during one of your child's playdate
- When appropriate, share related stories with them from when you were a kid (e.g., mistakes you made and what you learned from them)
- Come up with your own intriguing questions based on the specific interests of the kid(s)
Online Safety Questions to Engage Your Kids
LESSON: Being respectful and kind is as important online as it is in real life. If you get upset when you’re online, talk to a trusted adult.
- What would you do if your friend said something that hurt your feelings online and you got upset?
- When you’re online with a friend, do you speak to them the same as you would in real life? Or differently?
- If you saw a kid being bullied, what would you do?
- Have you ever heard of cyberbullying? Do you know any examples?
Balance: Living a Healthy Digital Life
LESSON: In order to be a healthy person, it's important to balance online and offline activities such as physical play and reading.
- If you had a day off from school and the internet was broken, what would you like to do?
- What do you think might happen to you if ALL you did was play video games all day and all night?
- What is your favourite activity to do with your family?
- What is your favourite video game? What do you love about it?
[READ: 3 Clever Ways to NOT Fight With Your Kids about Screen Time]
LESSON: Personal information needs to be kept private online. Always ask a trusted adult before sharing any personal information.
- What is an example of your personal information?
- Imagine you received an email telling you that you won $10,000 and all you needed to do was download an attachment, what would you do?
- Is there any reason you should share your password with someone?
- If you receive a message from someone asking you to send them a picture of you, what would you do?
LESSON: Sometimes it’s really important to say no!
- If a stranger asked you to keep a secret, what do you think is the right thing to do?
- What would you do if your friend asked you to steal a toy from another kid?
- What would you say if a stranger asked what school you went to?
- Imagine you were playing video games online and some of the other players were saying nasty things. What would you do?
Parenting has always been tough, and the potential digital risks have not made the job easier. However, having regular and open dialogue with your kids about online safety – including getting in the habit of asking them questions – has the potential to strengthen your bond, help them stay safer online, and even have fun in the process.