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Now more than ever before, the internet has become unavoidable in our everyday lives. The pandemic has shown just how much the internet can do for us – our children can attend school from home, we can work from home, we can order groceries and supplies without stepping foot in a store, and we keep in touch with friends and loved ones from the safety and comfort of our sofa.

Unfortunately, this also means we are using something that can pose a threat to a family’s privacy, safety and mental health. It is important to start conversations about the internet with your children at an early age but more importantly, to continue that conversation as your child grows and their relationship with the internet changes. With these guidelines, you will have the opportunity for open and honest conversations to help raise tech-savvy kids.

1. Starting talking about the internet sooner rather than later.
Start the conversation early, before they even have their own computer or tablet. Instead of only focusing on the negative things, teach your child about the wonderful things we can do with the internet. Show them how to look at the weather forecast or how to email Grandma. This will help your child build a healthy relationship with technology. With regards to social media, consider keeping your child off platforms where they can post images or videos, or chat with others until they are in their early teens (check out our post about teens and internet safety).

2. Talk about meeting people online.
Many children use the internet to play games or watch videos on social media, interacting with friends or with people they may not know. This is a good opportunity to discuss the fact that anyone can pretend to be anybody on the internet. Make sure your child never gives out personal information online. Even if they think they are playing or chatting with a “friend,” accounts can be hacked. If anyone asks for their personal information, this should be a red flag for your child!

3. Talk about what to do when something goes wrong.
Make sure your child knows what to do when they think they’ve done something wrong online or if they come across something that seems inappropriate, dangerous or “wrong.” Tell your child that they should always come to you or a trusted adult when they aren’t sure what to do. By keeping an open dialogue, your child builds trust and can feel comfortable coming to you with these situations they are bound to encounter.

4. Talk about appropriate behavior.
Not everyone on the internet has good intentions – sometimes people use the internet to hurt people or bully others. These could be strangers, but unfortunately sometimes even friends or classmates. Again, talk with your child about “internet manners” and what to do if they are being bullied (or see someone else being bullied online).

5. Using technology to protect your child.
Settings and apps on phones and devices are common ways to monitor and restrict activity, but make sure this does not replace communicating about these things with your child. In order to maintain trust and an open dialogue, it is also important that your child knows that you are using these tools rather than doing it behind their back.

Also, help your child set up their accounts. Adjust the settings to control who can access their profile. Be sure to have their user names and passwords.

6. Lead by example.
Keeping open lines of communication with your child is very important. But they also learn by watching your behaviors and how you navigate the real world – this is no different when they are learning to navigate the virtual world.

7. Create a family media plan.
CPCMG believes every family should have a media plan. This will help set expectations for device and internet usage as well as rules to help keep everyone safe. The AAP has an online tool to help you get started.

Remember, you will want to write down these rules so your family can see them regularly. Some rules may be non-negotiable, while others may warrant adjustment as your child gets older.

Examples of non-negotiable rules:
-Never give out your personal information (including your name, address, phone number, social security number, passwords).
-Never agree to meet in person with someone you only met online.

Examples of adjustable rules:
-Non-school screen time is x hours a day on weekdays and y hours a day on weekends.
-Do not post your photo on x types of sites (for example, you may allow your 16 year old to post photos on a social media page but a 9 year old should not post any photos without your permission).

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