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How to talk with your children about online safety

Updated: May 10, 2023

By Joyce Prusak, executive director of Coffee County Children’s Advocacy Center

Executive Director of Coffee County Children’s Advocacy Center Joyce Prusak

Child safety online is crucial in today’s world where children spend significant amounts of time online (95% of teens have access to smartphones and 45% report being online almost constantly, according to the National Criminal Justice Training Center). We covered the importance of implementing tech rules in your household, including parental approvals, tech free times and zones and focusing on the behavior instead of the app. The most essential aspect of keeping children safe (online and offline) is establishing a strong relationship and maintaining honest conversations built on transparency and trust.

Here are some tips to help you talk with your children about being safe online. You can adapt the focus of the topic depending on your children’s age and maturity level.

Elementary school aged children

If your children are in elementary school or younger, talk about online dangers, using concrete examples. Repetition is the key. Review and repeat concepts several times. Explain that an online predator is someone who may seek information and search for victims. Predators might want to obtain explicit photos, for example. Be concrete when you’re providing explanations and develop a common language with your child. Talk about online rules and manners. Explain what personal information is, providing examples. Explain to your children what information can be shared and what information should not be shared. Information topics your children should never share include address and phone number, town they live in, school they attend, school mascot (easily identifiable school information) and names of their teachers.

Middle school aged children

Earn the trust of your children who are middle school aged by speaking with them (not speaking at them). Have ongoing conversations, providing guidance. Offer real examples and don’t use scare tactics. Scare tactics don’t work and might lead to skepticism, with the child thinking, “This is not going to happen to me.” Cyberbullying and digital drama risks may now enter your child’s online world, and it’s important to define these terms and help your children develop a positive self-image.

High school students

While in this age group, some children may begin to look like adults, they are still children and their brains will not be developed until their mid-twenties. “Talk with them as adults, but be aware of their adolescent minds,” according to Christine Feller, who provides training for the National Criminal Justice Training Center (NCJTC).

Use concrete examples. Continue to build on conversations from past years. Encourage your children to consider consequences their posts and behavior online might have (positive and negative), when it comes to college applications, scholarships, job opportunities or military enlistment. Introduce your children to adult consequences of online issues. Talk with them about risks of online harassment and revenge porn.

This information was compiled with the help of NTJTC sources.

To learn more about child abuse prevention, explore our website and follow Coffee County Children’s Advocacy Center on social media. The Coffee County CAC offers free child abuse prevention training, thanks to a grant awarded to the center.

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