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.

When Dating Crosses the Line from Attentive to Controlling

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Today, teen dating spans the real world and the digital world. Teens may meet first in class or at a game then get to know one another through texting, following each other and sharing photos and posts online. Before mobile, teens had to sit by the phone waiting for their friend to call. Now, they can always be connected via texting and social networks. Unfortunately, teens may find themselves in a relationship where their partner uses this constant connection to control and abuse them.

MTV’s aThinLine Campaign has conducted a series of surveys exploring the pervasiveness of digital abuse among teens and young adults. When athinline asked teens about digital abuse, they found in almost all categories digital abuse is on the decline except for within a dating relationship. This was the only category that did not show improvement from 2011 to 2013. Nearly 40% of teens reported experiencing some type of digital dating abuse including:

  • Around 20% reported that their partner has checked up with them multiple times per day online or via mobile, and that their significant other had read their text messages without their permission.
  • Nearly 10% said their significant other has called them names, put them down, or said mean things to them on the Internet or on their cell phone or demanded to know the passwords to their email and Internet accounts.
  • Nearly 20% of young people say they felt pressured by their partner to respond to their phone calls, emails, texts, or instant messages.

This online dating abuse can take its toll on teens. A study by Michigan State University found girls, who had experienced non-physical abuse, were just as likely to experience the same negative outcomes as those who had experienced physical abuse. Both types of abuse lead to an increase in smoking, risk of depression, eating disorders and engaging in risky sexual behavior.

When a teen’s phone is constantly dinging, parents should check in. Online abuse is often harder to spot than physical abuse. Teens do text a lot but the important part is how they feel about these texts and messages. Parents should ask how often teens text or message their partner and generally what they are talking about. By listening to them, hopefully a parent can begin to see if this constant contact feels stressful and ascertain what happens if they do not respond right away to a text.

Healthy relationships are positive and safe both online and off. How they speak to one another should be respectful whether it is in the hallway or on Twitter. Relationships are built on mutual trust. Even within a relationship they are still individuals and deserve their privacy and independence. Teens should establish digital boundaries in their relationship. Friends should not demand passwords, require constant contact or insist on access to their phone. If needed, they should be able to take a break and turn off their phone.

When talking about dating, parents should talk about digital boundaries and reassure them that digital abuse is never their fault. Online abuses could be signs of a larger problem. If a teen is not feeling safe in their relationship, they need to seek help either by talking to you or another trusted adult or calling a helpline. Fortunately, many fantastic organizations are working to shed more light on this issue.

For more information on Dating, Digital Abuse and Teens, check out these great resources.

Teens may also want to check out two apps - Love is not Abuse on iTunes and Circle of 6 on GooglePlay. Both apps are designed to educate teens about dating abuse, connect them with resources and allow them to immediately reach out for help if needed.