"8 Steps to Kids Internet Safety" by Suzanne Wind

SheByShe is delighted to welcome Suzanne Wind as a guest blogger to SheByShe. This is the first of a series of three blog posts submitted by Suzanne who is also the author of  The SMART Playbook: Game-changing life skills for a modern world. Suzanne lives in Connecticut with her husband and three kids. Before kids, Suzanne was an international marketing executive in New York City. With a multi-cultural background, she was raised in more than six countries with four languages. Her career and living overseas taught her the importance of knowing and using the common language of manners and social skills to be your best. Today Suzanne is  a mom with a mission, inspired to communicate social skills in a modern world to a new generation. Connect with Suzanne on twitter at @Suzanne_wind.

As a mother of three kids (ages 11, 10, and 4), I feel it is my duty to prepare my kids to take their place in society as informed, respectful citizens, proactive and successful employees, and someday wonderful significant others. In this fast-paced digital world, my job often feels overwhelming. To simplify my mission, I have a “Playing it SMART” plan which includes five topics: Social skills basics from holding doors open to using polite words, Mealtime manners, Art of conversation, Restaurant behavior, and Technology talk-- being a great digital citizen!  I pick and choose my battles daily, in hopes that someone in society will appreciate my efforts to keep manners and social graces alive and well in a modern world. And most importantly, so that my kids will thrive and grow up with confidence, integrity, and empathy!

Today I would like to share playing it SMART with technology. Do you sometimes feel as if you are losing control over your kids in this digital world – our kids are surfing the Internet, playing online games, watching YouTube videos, googling, socializing, and more without our supervision. How do we regain control and help them be great digital citizens – staying safe and respectful online?

Here is My 8-Step Technology Playing it SMART Plan:

#1:  Spend Time with Your Kids Online
As parents, we are all guilty of using technology as our ‘break’ from our kids. They are entertained, and we don’t have to worry about where and what they are doing. But here’s the thing: We do need to worry about where and how they are interacting on the Internet. Our first step is to understand where they are going online.

With my older kids, I ask them to show me the new “cool” stuff that they have discovered. This helps open a dialogue between us on where they are surfing. I use these times as “teachable moments” to discuss what might or might not be appropriate.

I have one son who tends to gravitate towards the educational learning sites and then another who spends way too much time checking out YouTube videos. Most of them are harmless but some might be a bit too much for an eleven year old. I believe that an open discussion with your child is more effective than completely banning certain online usage. As they share, we discuss whether they are what we call red, orange or green light surfing areas. Red sites are not age-appropriate, green sites are approved sites, and yellow sites need prior approval.

Finally, I recommend keeping the computer in an open family room area where there’s more opportunity for interaction and understanding where your kids are going online.

#2: Private and Personal Information
Review with your kids what private and personal information is all about.  Detailed information such as name, address, birthday, photo, school, and phone numbers should not be shared on the Internet. Play a game – list different items and ask them to identify if it’s private or personal so that they really learn the difference.

#3: Visit Safe Sites
Stress to your kids the importance of only visiting parent- or teacher-approved sites only. Here’s another great time to play the red, green, and yellow game to help them understand age appropriate sites. The number one rule to stress - when in doubt, ask a grown-up.

There are also different parental software programs to keep your kids safe. If you choose this route, there’s plenty of options, for example, Norton Family, Bitdefender Parental Control and KuruPira WebFilter.

#4: Password and Username Protection
Teach your kids about safe passwords and protection. Challenge your child to come up with creative passwords that do not give out personal information. Keep everything private and do not give out to friends.

#5: Spam and Scams Awareness
Does your child know to click the ‘x’ on pop-ups? Introduce the basics of spam and scams. Never open up emails, pop-ups, or attachments that you receive from people you don’t know.

If your child is getting an email account, you should spend time and go through examples of emails and attachments that could cause harm to the computer. With my boys, I shared with them the SPAM folder on my email and explained that most of them automatically go into this folder but some unfortunately get through. By reviewing my spam folder, it clarified what a ‘spam’ is all about. As for scams, it is always helpful to share a story of a scam that either yourself or a friend have encountered on email. The rule in our house is do not download strange attachments or open up unknown emails. When in doubt ask a grown up.

#6: Do Not Over-Share – The Internet is VERY public!
The message is simple: Always think and ask permission before sharing photos, emails, and attachments. Ask your child to answer one question before sharing pictures, videos, and attachments – “Is this something that my parents, teachers, and grandparents would be fine sharing?”

#7: Stranger Danger online
Stranger danger is a familiar subject to any child. Explain to your child that the same rules also apply online. Never talk to strangers on the Internet. Any stranger can pretend to be a friend, and you have no way of knowing who they are because they are behind the mask of the computer. Tell an adult if someone you don’t know tries to talk to you online.

#8: Technology Code of Conduct
Be specific with your kids on how to behave safely and respectfully while using technology. To help you with your efforts, I offer a free Tech Code of Conduct on my website www.thesmartplaybook.com/freebies. This is a great tool to outline what is expected of your child in this digital world.

Thank you for taking the time to read more about creating a game plan to teach your kids to be respectful digital citizens. Please keep playing it SMART using games and challenges to help your kids understand technology safety. Additional resources are available at www.thesmartplaybook.com.

I wish you and your child safe Internet travels!