Tonight my husband and I initiated a discussion after dinner that neither of our children wanted to take part in. The topic was how people might take advantage of you or hurt you online.
The kids got a little uncomfortable, to say the least.
Our kids start with a pretty serious disadvantage in the “you stupid old fogies don’t know what you’re talking about” department. As I pointed out to them, I got flamed on the Internet before it was called the Internet. Their father was amongst the first Americans to visit the World Wide Web.
We’re not newbies. We’re not teetotalers warning their kids against the danger of intoxication.
This is such an important conversation. The world that our kids are growing up in bears so little resemblance to the world we grew up in, it’s pretty much unprecedented. The only analogous situation I can think of is parents who grew up in peacetime raising kids in a war zone.
Everything bad that could happen to us when we were kids had to happen in the “real” world. This other world didn’t exist yet. The little pieces of it that did exist, like chat rooms that users dialed into on their modems, relate to the Web like BB guns to today’s automatic weapons.
This conversation wasn’t out of the blue. I think the only thing that responsible parents can do these days is to keep bringing up this topic, to keep it fresh in kids’ minds, and to keep all the avenues of discussion open at all times.
It makes kids uncomfortable, especially teens. Our twelve-year-old was rather annoyed that her little transgression had sparked this conversation again. Our sixteen-year-old straight-out announced that he didn’t need to talk about it and attempted to walk out.
Teens live much of their lives in a digital world these days. And teens are built to wear their feelings very close to the surface of their skin. They feel deeply, which is great. Their first instinct is often to push away adults who make them feel deeply, which is not so great.
But we kept talking. We worked past the denials, the jokes, the sarcasm, the put-downs, and the brush-offs that kept coming our way. Because this topic is important, perhaps more important (statistically speaking) than talking about stranger abduction. Perhaps not quite as important as teaching your children to look both ways before they cross a street, but verging on that level of importance.
It’s easy for us to think, “my kid would never be so naive.” But let’s face it, we all make mistakes. As I explained to my children, I personally have made mistakes online that have led to hurt feelings and worse in my real life. It’s a real topic that we all have to face.
In the end, I think our kids heard and understood. But it wasn’t the end. This is an ongoing conversation as they mature and face new situations. I explained to my kids at after a half-century on this earth, I still turn to their dad and others I know for advice and guidance on how to react to situations online.
Lifelong learning isn’t just IRL.
- I love KidsHealth.org—here’s their Internet safety advice for parents.
- Common Sense Media has advice for parents on all sorts of Internet safety-related topics.
- All kids should learn about Digital Literacy.
Read my follow-up, Good people, bad people, and the rest of us.