Talking to kids about scary chain emails

scared kid A few weeks ago, I had chance to talk with elementary school parents about internet safety. It was a great evening and a chance for me to discover what problems young kids were encountering in the digital world. One of the concerns that came up was scary chain emails. These chain emails usually start with a frightening story and end with “if you don’t send this to 5 friends, I will come to your house in the middle of the night and kill you with a butcher’s knife.” Quite a few parents shared how upset their child had become upon receiving such a threatening email.

At home, I asked my 3 kids about scary chain emails. Predictably, my tween and teen rolled their eyes. My eldest recalled at time in 5th grade when they all sent around these emails. They were excited to have their first email accounts but received so little email they started sending each other chain emails. It is easy to find examples of funny and scary chain emails online. Both of my older kids said these emails were not a big deal and most of the time they simply deleted them.

My youngest was not so dismissive. In fact, he was concerned and confused by how the stranger would have gotten his email address. He thought if the stranger knew his email address, they could also know where he lived. To him, these threats seemed within the realm of possibility. Honestly, I was little surprised by his reaction. Our conversation was a reminder that I still needed to talk to him more about evaluating digital content.

First off, we talked about how someone cannot find your home address through your email address. I reminded him how when we signed up for email. He only shared his name and birth date and this information is protected via his password. (I also slipped in a quick plug for choosing a strong, unique password). Most likely, this email either came from someone who guessed his email address or a friend forwarded the email. Either way, the original author does not have his home address and does not know where he lives.

Second, we discussed how these stories are not real. These chain emails have been floating around the internet for a long time. A great place to check for the origin of these stories is on snopes.com. Snopes investigates chain mails and other urban legends and provides reliable explanations. Here is an example of how to dissect one of these stories for a kid. Snopes not only investigates the different versions on the web but takes a part the story as well. A quick lesson in critical thinking.

Finally, kids should never forward these emails. Some of these emails may a contain a virus so you want to nip these in the bud before they can infect a computer. The best thing to do is just delete them so that no other kids will get scared or have nightmares. For more information on talking with kids about chain emails, check out the blog Media!Tech!Parenting! by Marti Weston which has a lot of information on protecting kids from email hoaxes, scams and viruses.

How to be a Good Digital Parent

Mobile-AppsIt is not easy being a digital parent. Just when you think you have it figured out a new app pops up or a new device comes out. For parents who are already keeping track of school, activities, work and everything else in between, the digital world can end up on the never-ending to do list. Thankfully, help is on its way with the Family Online Safety Institute’s (FOSI) new initiative, Good Digital Parenting.

What I love is FOSI developed the Good Parenting Initiative after talking with parents. What they found is parents start off quite confident in their digital skills. Parents with younger children are more likely to think that they (the parent) know more about technology and online activities than their child does (80%). However, this feeling of confidence changes as the child grows older. When their child is 14 to 17, only 36% of parents think they know more than their child does. Not only are parents with teens feel less confident in their ability to keep track of their child’s technology use, but they are less likely to say they are following their child’s technology use very closely.

When FOSI asked parents what they thought about their kids online activities, parents saw more benefits than harms. Still, parents have concerns especially around inappropriate content and people. The number one concern was “stalkers, child molesters, predators, bad people lurking online”, although “contact with strangers” was ranked much lower. This could be due to parents finding it easier to control who contacts their child compared to controlling who sees a video or picture a child shares. Given the amount of media attention and focus in schools on bullying, I would have expected cyberbullying or online bullying to be ranked higher. Parents may not be hearing about online bullying from their child or are not seeing it online. They also may feel confident that when they encounter it they know how to handle this situation so it is less of a concern.

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Talking to a preschooler vs. a high schooler about online strangers are two very different conversations. Plus, a parent may feel more at ease talking to a younger child vs. a skeptical teenager. For this reason, I organized my book Talking Digital around different ages so the conversation grows and changes as the child grows older. I love that FOSI uses this same approach. Looking at what parents need, they have developed tools for each age group. These tools include instructional videos, expert commentary and tip sheets for a variety apps. Each one offers conversation starters for kicking off the digital talk in your house.

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A friend and I joke about writing a series of books entitled the good enough parent. We don’t do everything perfectly but we manage to be just good enough. Being a good digital parent is not about following one perfect path. It is about doing enough for your family. The tools FOSI provides can help parents take advantages of  moments in the day to provide guidance, model appropriate behavior and when needed chart a course correction.

Wherever you are at on your digital parenting journey, FOSI and other organizations are working to provide tools to help your digital family. While researching my book, I discovered many more fabulous websites and resource for parents and I included them all in the back of Talking Digital. Below I have a few of my favorites that I have bookmarked when digital questions come up in my house.


BeWebSmart

BeWebSmart has tips and guides for parents on how to keep their families safe and productive online. At this site, you will find practical information on how to set up filters as well as app reviews.

Common Sense Media

Common Sense Media is an outstanding resource for parents. It provides information and tools to help families choose and manage media in their lives. If you have questions about a specific app or need tips on managing screen time this is the site to turn to first.

Connect Safely

ConnectSafely is a nonprofit organization that publishes safety tips, parents’ guides, advice, news and commentary on all aspects of tech use and policy. Both Anne Collier and Larry Magid write thought provoking pieces about growing up digital.

CSID

CSID offers identity protection for families. CSID bloggers share how to spot identity theft and what to do if this happens. They also write about how to protect your family from identity theft online and at school.

Dr. Englander/Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center

Dr. Elizabeth Englander directs the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center, which delivers free anti-violence and anti-bullying programs, resources, and research to K-12 Education. She has also published a serious of parenting guides to help parents and teens deal with bullying and cyberbullying.

Entertainment Software Review Board

The ESRB, Entertainment Software Review Board assigns ratings to video games and apps so parents can make informed choices. ESRB ratings, ranging from E for everyone to M for mature, appear on nearly every computer or video game. On their website and mobile app, parents can read reviews and find out why a game received a certain rating.

iKeepsafe

iKeepsafe is a nonprofit organization that focuses on helping families and communities have safe and healthy experiences with technology and the internet. To this end, they have developed the created the iKeepSafe BEaPRO™ Parent app as well as published a series of parenting guides.

Ask the Mediatrician

If you have a specific question about kids and technology, the mediatrician has probably answered it. The mediatrician is Dr. Michael Rich who is the Director of the Center on Media and Child Health. He provides science-based answers and practical solutions to help families use media in ways that can enrich their lives.

MTV’s AThinLine

MTV’s AThinLine campaign aims to empower teens to identify, respond to, and stop the spread of digital abuse. The campaign is built on the understanding that there is a “thin line” between what may begin as a harmless joke and something that could end up having a serious consequence. Teens can identify their line by taking quizzes, listening to stories and reading tips for how to address digital drama. This campaign also publishes an excellent series of studies on what teens are doing and seeing online.

Webwise.ie

Webwise is in Ireland. Their mission is to promote safer use of the Internet and mobile phones by schoolchildren in Ireland, their parents & teachers. Webwise has some great app reviews and information about teaching children how to stay safe online. Their goal is to teach families how to transform actual dangers into manageable risks so kids can master the internet and become responsible users.