A Kid’s Best Online Protection is Between their Ears

Like most parents, I started out my journey feeling confident in my kids’ digital world. I watched with pride as they searched for information for a school project on Susan B. Anthony or watched a YouTube video on how to use the lattice method for multiplication. Most of the time, I marveled at how we ever got along without a computer. As the kids got older and my family’s technology use increased, my confidence began to waver.

After reading sensational news stories about kids and social media, I wanted to throw every device out the window. Headlines screamed out at me that strangers were stalking children on social networks, cyberbullying was an epidemic, and sexting was the new rage. Technology had apparently invited a world full of pedophiles, bullies and pornographers to my door.

I discovered that when problems occurred in cyberspace it was ultimately my fault. Some articles characterized me, the parent, as naive or neglectful unless I was monitoring every text, tweet, like and reblog with the proficiency of a seasoned NSA agent. Other articles labeled me a helicopter parent and predicted my constant surveillance would create a generation unable to make decisions on their own. In other words, to be a good digital parent, I needed to know everything they were doing online while simultaneously allowing them complete autonomy. Impossible.

Parents do need to be out front guiding their child’s internet use. Often the techniques parents employ are reactive not proactive. They are only seeing what their child has already done. This does not prevent mistakes. Reacting to texts already sent leaves parents in the position of punishing not guiding. The best way to prevent mistakes online is by giving them accurate information, teaching them how to behave and showing them how to live a healthy digital life.

For kids, there is no divide between their offline and online world. Conversations started at school move in to texting or messaging through an app. After school activities are shared with friends through Instagram or Snapchat. To them it is part of their lives. What they are doing online reflects what is happening offline.

Parenting in the digital world requires the same dexterity as parenting in the real world. As soon as they can hold a device, a parent is beside them teaching them how the online world works. Along the way, they create age appropriate rules to protect them while allowing them opportunities to explore the digital world. Having the digital talk is essential to teaching kids how to make good choices both online and off.

Faced with a tech-savvy kid, who rolls their eyes when a parent mixes up a browser with search engine, the digital talk can be intimidating. This is where “Talking Digital” comes in. This book begins with preschool and continues through to high school. Each chapter focuses on a different age and contains information about what kids are doing online at this stage, what topic parents should bring up, how to answer tough questions and what to do when a child makes a mistake online. This book is about giving kids the life skills needed to lead a healthy digital life. Ultimately, the best online protection a kid will ever have is between their ears.


It is time to start talking digital!

book cover 8

Available on Amazon


Ask KidsPrivacy: Yik Yak in High Schools

yik yak feature Yik Yak is the #3 app on iTunes top free apps. On Yik Yak, people can anonymously share their thoughts, observations and comments. Ideally, Yik Yak is the digital equivalent of a message board in a college coffee shop. When the app trickled in to high schools, teens did not use it this way. Instead, students posted hateful comments about fellow classmates and teachers. Recently, I received a question about Yik Yak and how schools, parents and teens can work together to take control of it.


Q: What about YikYak, the anonymous service similar to twitter? Now that it’s in our community, how are schools and parents partnering to keep our kids safe?

yik yak issaquahA:  The appeal of Yik Yak is complete anonymity to say anything you want. Yik Yak does not even have usernames. I have more information about Yik Yak in my Parent’s Guide to Yik Yak, but here is a quick overview. Yik Yak does resemble a local twitter feed. Teens can share “Yaks” with other users who are within 1.5 miles of them. Yaks are short messages limited to 200 characters. Once posted, other users can reply to it or promote it within Yik Yak by voting it up or down. Upvoting is essentially a like and downvoting a dislike. They can also share Yaks on Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, etc.

When Yik Yak first appeared, it gained notoriety for teens using it to post bomb threats and slam classmates. Police investigated these threats and schools rushed in to ban the app. In the face of this bad publicity, Yik Yak stepped in with its own solution. They chose to place geofences around all the middle schools and high schools in the US. A geofence shuts off all access to the app within 1.5 miles of the school.

yik yak high schoolYik Yak has placed geofences around 85% of all high schools and middle schools in the US. If your school does not have one, school administrators can contact Yik Yak and they will create one. Shutting off the app during school hours does reduce the reach of the app. Teens can still post after school but now it is seen by people 1.5 miles from their house. It is the difference between shouting in the school hallways vs. shouting on the street. Gossip can still spread but not as quickly or easily. Parents can also attempt to stop teens downloading this app at home by changing the restrictions on iTunes or GooglePlay.

Banning alone is not the solution. School, parents and students need to work together to change the culture around these anonymous apps. Teens need to realize that anonymity is not a license to say anything they want without repercussions. They are still responsible for their words. On Yik Yak, they are not as anonymous as they may think. When a student posted a bomb threat on this app, the police were able to find him and arrest him. All of our phones carry a unique device ID that can be traced. No one is completely anonymous online.

Teens have a role to play in governing the use of this app. Sometimes, kids are afraid to stick up for someone online because of the fear of reprisals. By speaking up, they can become the target of the abuse as well as unintentionally feed the internet fire. On Yik Yak, teens can moderate this feed without fear. They can downvote the type of content they don’t want to see without anyone knowing who they are. When a yak receives a score of -5, it is removed. If a person’s content is continually downvoted or flagged, Yik Yak will ban them. Furthermore, they can encourage the type of content they want to see by upvoting it.

While researching Yik Yak, I discovered another app that was already moving in to take its place and this one allows pictures. There is always a new app around the corner. Instead of chasing apps, communities need to come together to incorporate digital citizenship in schools, support parents on having the digital talk at home, and teach kids and teens the value of making good choices online. We are still developing social norms for a wired world, it is important to work together to create a supportive atmosphere for our children both online and off.


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