by Holly Cushing
Welcome back to our crucial conversation about internet safety with kids! Last week, we talked about introducing the topic of internet safety at a young age, and making it a frequent topic of conversation in your home. This week, we have 3 more tips on how to talk to your kids about internet safety.
3. Practice empathy and compassion
“Shame needs three things to grow exponentially in our lives: secrecy, silence and judgement.” - Brene Brown
Shame leads people to struggle in private. If someone is struggling with pornography (or anything, for that matter) and feels that they will be judged for sharing, it will only lead to deeper secrecy and shame. Creating a compassionate and empathetic space for your children to share plays an instrumental role in fighting against issues such as cyberbullying, pornography addiction, trafficking and more. Not shaming your child doesn’t mean there won’t be any consequences for inappropriate internet use, but it does help create a relationship where your kids feel safe telling you things. If your child is shamed after opening up and sharing with you, they will be less likely to share things with you in the future. If you show empathy and compassion, you’re reminding your child that it’s you and them against the dangers of the internet - together on the same team.
If or when your child does confide in you, make sure that you thank them for sharing. Overcoming shame is no small feat, and trusting someone enough to tell them about something deep and hidden takes a lot of courage. As heartbreaking as it may be to learn that your child struggles with pornography or has been chatting with a stranger online, for example, it is so important to show compassion and grace by putting yourself in their shoes and understanding how vulnerable they are to share it with you. If this is the experience they get when they confess things to you, the chances are they’ll be more likely to confide in you again.
4. Set boundaries for internet use & share the why
Setting rules and boundaries for internet use isn’t a fun conversation to have, and there will likely be complaints from your kids about it, but it’s necessary. As a kid, my
parents had a security program on our computer. At the time, my only concerns were feeding my Webkinz and designing my dream home on my favourite interior design website. What I then saw as an annoying barrier to getting to my fun internet games, I now see as a huge shield of protection against things I had no idea I could be exposed to online.
One phrase they would say to me has stuck with me all these years later: “It’s not that we don’t trust you, but we don’t trust everyone else on the internet.” This is a really important distinction to make. At one point or another, you are going to have to trust your kids to make wise decisions on the internet. When they start spending more time with friends, move away to college, and eventually move out of your home, they will be on their own and will have to navigate healthy internet use. That’s why it’s not only important to set boundaries in your home, but have open conversations about why you are setting those boundaries. Rules without explanation become legalistic, which will likely make your kids more inclined to rebel against them. Make your kids a part of the conversation on boundaries. Be firm where you need to be firm, and be flexible and make compromises where appropriate. Boundaries may change over time as your kids get older and earn more of your trust, but keeping it an open dialogue will contribute to an environment of honesty and trust.
5. Take advantage of the resources available to you
My hope is not that you will walk away from reading this feeling overwhelmed, but instead, that you will walk away feeling more equipped to navigate conversations surrounding safe internet use with your kids (or future kids). So for my last tip, I want to encourage you to make use of the many resources that are out there. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are some resources you may find helpful:
I hope you’re feeling more equipped and confident to navigate crucial conversations with your family. Here’s a summary of the 5 tips we’ve talked about over the past 2 weeks:
Small, consistent steps can lead to lasting, impactful change. Keep this in mind as you address big questions and topics with your kids. Let’s equip the next generation to become happy, healthy and well-informed adults!