One of the questions I get asked the most is if my kids have their own social media accounts. The answer is yes, but I want to be very clear that these accounts are not theirs alone. While kids see apps, such as Instagram and YouTube as fun, they can be VERY dangerous if not monitored correctly. So, yes my kids have them. And I have them too. We’re in it together. As a blogger, my life is all online. And because I talk about my kids, some of their life is online too. I’m very careful, however, with what I share and how I share it and talk regularly with the kids about internet safety. But even though I try to stay on top of navigating the online world with my kids, things happen. I am so grateful that National PTA and LifeLock created, The Smart Talk, an online tool designed to help our children know how to safely use and be part of our digitally connected world. This online agreement, that you complete along with your kids, puts family internet safety rules in writing and helps keep everyone accountable.About 9 months ago, the kids were in the kitchen packing their lunch after we finished up our dinner routine. The phone rang and I answered it. The man on the line asked, by name, for my youngest child. It immediately caught me off guard and I was instantly angry. Without giving away any more personal info, I asked questions to try to figure out how he had gotten our home number and my son’s name. Even as I hung up, I was perplexed. Surely my 6-year-old wouldn’t have given out his name and our number. We’ve talked about online safety before. And then my son mentioned something about a video game where he “filled out” some information. When we talk to our kids about online safety, there is no possible way that our words translate over all the possible situations that can pop up before them. Although we had talked about how you are to never share you personal info with people in chat rooms and on social media, my son had thought nothing of putting our information in a very official looking form, within his video game, that would earn him coins to use. Floored. What that taught me is that we can’t have the conversation once. We need to keep having it and keep talking about it.
So when my kids asked me for their own YouTube channel I was like, NOPE. After some time (or maybe it was because my husband said okay without really thinking about how time-consuming that would be for us…) they ended up with a channel. And a whole new set of rules. I love that they are able to be creative and create movies and be funny and learn what parts of it they like doing more than others. I also see that it could potentially turn in to a career for them can help teach them skills that could help them with school projects, etc. But along with this online presence comes a whole new set of rules. They are not allowed to use their real names (something that I often screw up when they are filming and we have to bleep it out). They can’t wear shirts that show their school name. And other things like that. This is what I feel comfortable with and if they want to have the channel these are rules they have to follow.It is an interesting age, with lots of learning. My oldest son likes to be funny and prank people. But he’s not that adept at knowing when something is actually a prank or when someone might just think he is being mean. (He very much has my husband’s sense of humor). This lead to a discussion about how things he says online might not come across as he intended. It’s also important for him to know that anything he posts now, could come back to hurt him in the future. It’s a huge idea, that kids may or may not be able to grasp. I have to take it step by step and do what I feel is best at each moment. And since the internet and social media is not going away, it’s best to tackle it head on now so that you have an open dialogue with your kids about the online world. Your kids might just be asking to use Instagram but I suggest to you that you treat it not just as social media, but a tool to teach them a skill. For my kids, their YouTube channel is a place for them to create something. We talk about what they are filming and why someone would want to watch it. We treat what they post as content and therefore it should be a certain quality. My oldest has taken an online class for editing videos with iMovie and we talk about lighting and sound recording etc. Nothing gets posted ANYWHERE without my approval. Instagram (with my oldest) is a little more hands off because I follow his account, it is private and he is not allowed to follow or allow strangers to follow his account. I also know he isn’t browsing around in the “explore” area as they are only using social media and electronic devices outside of their bedrooms. Last weekend we sat down together and created our Smart Talk agreement to help create internet safety rules for our family. It took about 10 minutes and allowed us to create some ground rules for general electronics use and to talk a little bit more in detail about certain areas where I felt like we needed to. Because we had the phone incident, it prompted me to expand on examples so my youngest could see multiple angles of things to look out for. The Smart Talk agreement is a guided conversation and interactive experience that goes over the use of all electronic devices and who is responsible for them (like who will pay if they get broken – my answer was no one. You break it, you lost it) and how many hours a day your family is ok with the kids using them.The tool creates a printable contract to hold parents and kids accountable. It is something we can revisit and revise as we need to as technology, and how we use it, changes. I’m grateful to the National PTA and LifeLock for making it a priority to foster positivity online with our kids. I’ve seen first hand what an awesome space it is but it is important to know that it can be extremely dangerous for kids if not monitored.It was my youngest who reminded me that if the agreement was going to be in a photograph used online, they weren’t allowed to sign their real names. So they used their YouTube names, Kid and Bigger Kid. At least some of what they are learning is sticking…We will continue to work together and create things that end up online for their friends and other family to see. And we will continue to talk about our internet safety rules too. The online world can be scary and overwhelming for parents. I’m thankful that LifeLock and National PTA are here to support us and help us help our children stay as safe as possible.
This is not my first time partnering with LifeLock and National PTA. See my post on sharing positivity online.
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I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.