How to Have “The Talk” About Online Safety with Kids
It happens so quickly. Our kids play games on their tablets as preschoolers learning colors, numbers and shapes, and then whoosh, it’s a decade later and they want a phone. They become experts at texting, downloading apps, and want to be as connected to the outside world as we are. But before we allow our children access that all important WiFi password, it’s important to have the talk.
No, not that talk. The talk about online safety.
But how do you explain the dangers of pedophiles and online predators to elementary school aged children? We’ve enlisted the help of Jessica Bronner, a LMHC (licensed mental health counselor) who works with children and families who have fallen victim to childhood sexual abuse. Here are some of her tips on how to broach the sensitive topic of child predators.
- Start with stranger danger. Every parent knows their child best so Bronner says to gauge your child’s maturity level and how much you’d like to share. Start with, “We have to be careful of stranger danger in public, and you also have to be careful of strangers online.” Bronner adds that, “Parents don’t want to be be doom and gloom, it’s not that everybody is bad, but kids have to be careful.”
- What could someone do to me? This is a common question some kids might ask parents. Bronner says to respond this way; “Someone could find you and might hurt you, and it’s our job to protect you and keep you safe. ” Always relate it back to a real world experience. “If you were waiting for bus and someone came up to you, would you go with them? No. These people are still strangers even though they are online.”
- Nothing is real on the internet. It’s important to emphasize to our kids that you don’t who you are talking to on a game or an app. In real life if someone comes up to you and is a stranger, you can run away. Online you can’t see them, so they could be pretending to be anyone they want. And you can’t assume anything they say is real either. So stay off any apps that connect to the internet unless you are with mom or dad.
- Checking your devices is mandatory, get used to it. Bronner says, “I’m a big believer that you are allowed to look at your kids phone and history, there’s no privacy at all. Just like nothing is private on the internet, if they put it out there, it’s yours to read. Also, it’s important to emphasize that when we look at your phone or computer, you’re not in trouble, it’s not that we don’t believe you, but we don’t trust the other people.”
- How do you explain consent or rape to child? This is a tough topic and not something to broach until your child is of the age to understand sex. But Bronner recommends removing the mysticism or stigma around our bodies and sex. “If your kid is approached in an innocent way by a friend who for example wants to give them a hug, it’s OK to give them the power to say I don’t like that. You own your body and you get to decide what happens. Only the doctor, with the permission of a parent can touch you in the privates during an exam or routine appointment. Empower kids that they own their body, and if anybody ever does touch them inappropriately, that its OK to tell someone about it. Those places aren’t dirty. The more you can open the dialogue with your children the better.”
Moving into the digital age with innocent youths isn’t easy. But if we can arm them early with education and an open dialogue, then we can prevent child predators from reaching them.