Crucial Conversations: 5 tips for talking about internet safety with your kids (PART 1)
By Holly Cushing
According to a recent article, most children are exposed to pornography by the age of 13, with some being exposed as young as 7. A national survey in the United States estimated that in youth ages 14-18, 84.4% of males and 57% of females have been exposed to pornography. The Human Trafficking Institute’s 2020 report indicated that 83% of active sex trafficking cases involved socilitation online, primarily through social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.
Statistics like these are alarming and discouraging. If your children are among the few who haven’t yet been exposed to the dangers of the internet, it is likely only a matter of time before they are. These statements are not intended to make you scared, but rather prepared to navigate the difficult, but necessary, conversations with your kids about internet safety. My hope is that through these 5 tips, you will feel equipped to have meaningful, age-appropriate, and effective conversations with your children about safe internet use.
1) Start early
Children are exposed to pornography and innapropriate content online much earlier than one might expect. Talking about internet safety and pornography requires age-appropriate terminology and detail, but starting the conversation at a young age will help your kids understand that the internet can be a dangerous place. Children are using technology at a younger age than ever before, and even sites that are labelled “kid friendly” are often used as gateways to inappropriate content.
When talking about internet safety, it is better to be proactive than reactive. Dare I compare talking about internet safety to talking about puberty - but bear with me as I draw some similarities between the two topics. Parents often talk to their children about the ways their body will change before it happens, so they aren’t startled when it does. Similarly, talking about the dangers of the internet before your child starts using it regularly will better prepare them to deal with encounters of inappropriate content online. If they are aware of the inappropriate or dangerous things they might encounter, there’s a higher chance that they will recognize it for what it is: inappropriate or dangerous. Ignorance is not bliss, and not talking about the dangers of the internet won’t make them go away.
2) Make the conversation frequent & ongoing
Starting these conversations at a young age will prove beneficial in the long run if parents avoid the “one and done” approach. Fostering an environment where internet safety (or any topic for that matter) is talked about frequently and authentically will serve you well as your children become more comfortable having these conversations on a regular basis. This may also help relieve stress on the parent’s end about navigating these conversations. It can be overwhelming to know where to start, or how much detail to give depending on your child’s age. So start small; start by having a short conversation about what it means to use the internet safely or why it is important to be careful when using the internet. Then, gradually build onto the conversation as both you and your kids are more comfortable talking about it. Every child is different, so talking about internet safety may look very different depending on your child. Some may have lots of questions, while others may not. You know your kids best, and can cater your approach to meet each child where they’re at in order to have organic and impactful conversations. As your kids get older, the nature and content of these conversations will likely change, and it will be less daunting for both the parent and the child when it’s a normal topic of conversation in your home.
In sum, starting to talk about internet safety when your kids are young, and making conversations frequent and ongoing, will help foster openness in your home and create a safe space for having crucial conversations like internet safety. Stay tuned for next week’s blog post with the final 3 tips for talking about internet safety with your kids!
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