How to talk to your kids about inappropriate content online
Like many parents, I used to think that you have to address sensitive issues at just the right time and in the right way. However, I have learned over the years that it is far better for our children and far easier for us to start these important conversations early.
We can gradually layer them in an age-appropriate way by using the right language and terminology. This shows our children that we are willing to talk, that our home is a safe place to ask questions, and that nothing is too uncomfortable or embarrassing to bring up.
With this in mind, pornography can be explained as images, videos, or cartoons that bare parts of the body that we normally keep private. It’s not an all-encompassing definition, but it’s a start. And that’s exactly what we’re looking for: easy ways to bring the conversation to the table. The more you speak, the easier it becomes. Here are some age-appropriate interview guidelines.
Children this age should not be left alone with devices that are connected to the internet or have a camera – even for something as simple as watching cartoon videos or cartoons.
Parents can also check the built-in parental controls on their devices as protection against questionable content.
Based on my own research and experience with families, children of this age are exposed to inappropriate content online. Then children spend more time away from home with friends, at school or on play dates. It can be intimidating to bring up media safety with other parents. But I’ve found that families often share similar concerns. That makes it easier to have those conversations.
Some children have food allergies. Some kids have nightmares while watching scary movies. And some parents talk to other parents before a play date or sleepover to make sure those needs are communicated. The media safety talk can take place in the same room.
For example: “We have a family rule that children of this age are only allowed to be on the internet in the presence of an adult. Is that a policy in your house?”
Many children get their first cell phone at this age. Every new device that comes into the house is an opportunity to review your family’s media plan. I always encourage parents to include their children in this plan.
It can start with a few self-reflective questions: “How can my media use be aligned with my hopes, dreams, and values? Is what I’m doing today consistent with where I want to go?” Using the red, yellow, and green lights as metaphors for stopping, pausing, or walking, consider the following:
Green light– Doing homework, talking to grandma or looking up craft videos. Anything that reinforces these stated goals falls into this category.
yellow light– Does the time you spend online doing a specific activity take up most of the day? For example, when friends come over, can you put it down and spend time with them? Having trouble turning off the tech when prompted?
red light– Anything that doesn’t align with those hopes, dreams, and values and your family’s technical limitations. Close it immediately. Inform a trusted adult for added reassurance.
When kids hit their teens, they still have some influence, but peer influence is a big deal. At this age, children become more autonomous online. If they want to find something, they will find it. So they need to know that there is a safe place at home to ask important questions. Children are often afraid that otherwise they will get into trouble and lose their technique. Her fear of losing access to the phone can override her desire to talk about what’s going on.
I know stories of young women who have confided in friends but no parents when they felt pressured to send intimate photos to someone at school.
That’s why we need to put these difficult talks on the table. Children are confronted with difficult scenarios. It’s not fair to let them go through these things on their own – to solve big adult problems without having someone to talk to.
To make room for these conversations, consider the following:
Make ongoing connection a priority. Once a week or once a month, have them choose an activity, a place to have lunch, or talk together about something that interests them. The idea is to create a space for ongoing connections so it’s easier to talk about the harder stuff.
Consider alternatives to taking the phone away as punishment. When boundaries are being crossed, instead of just picking up the phone, ask your teen to help you deal with it. Your solutions might surprise you. Another approach is to ask, “Would it be helpful for you if we set stronger technical boundaries together?”
Take the pressure off. When you’re just starting out, shoulder-to-shoulder conversations are best. Teens tend to open up more when the conversation feels more casual. So think of natural ways to avoid eye contact. Whether you’re driving in a car or making the family dinner together, these are ideal times to bring up challenging topics.
How to manage your child’s access to inappropriate content
The aim of these talks is to address critical technology consumers. If the focus continues to be content blocking, kids simply aren’t learning how to make decisions for themselves. Eventually they will find ways to bypass filters and parental controls. Family safety meetings can become a regular part of your tech routine—and another low-pressure way to talk about online safety together.