Learning Digital Safety Lessons from the Offline World

As an expert in safety, security, and privacy issues, I realize how intimidating the digital world can seem. In recent years, I’ve spoken to hundreds of dedicated parents—families committed to protecting their teens online—and their questions are almost always the same. How do I protect my teen from dangers online? How do I overcome such an elusive adversary? How will I know if my son or daughter is having a problem in their digital life? Thankfully, no matter what the concern is, one answer continues to hold true: loving, attentive relationships with parents help nurture teenagers into healthy and successful adults.

Let’s face it; the teenage years have never been easy. Different challenges present themselves with each new decade, and parents have always questioned how best to protect their children in the face of an ever-changing world.  When it comes down to it, though, communication is still a parent’s greatest resource. Talking about cyber-bullying is not much different than teaching children how to protect themselves against a school-yard bully. Setting limits on how long teenagers can stay online is similar to establishing a consistent curfew. Technologies may have changed, but it’s the conversation that really matters.

I encourage you to sit down with your teenager and learn everything possible about his or her digital experiences. The simple act of talking will allow you to understand what your teen is going through and enable you to respond proactively before problems get out of hand. Likewise, the more you learn about the technology and websites your teenager cares about, the better equipped you are to set clear rules and expectations about their usage, as well as to access safety resources and parent controls that will further protect your teen. In order to help prepare you for such discussions, you can visit safety.ask.fm to find out more about what ASKfm is doing to make its site safer for users and to get helpful hints for parents.

As a father of four, I understand that you are the expert on your own teenager (3 of mine are teens and one is in training). As they grow up in the digital century, I realized a something quite enlightening.  When I pick up a device or sit at a laptop, I check to see if it’s connected to the Internet.  In essence, I treat the online and offline worlds as separate and apart.  My kids do quite the opposite.  They just assume that everything is connected, that both worlds are just one.  When they text, they are talking.  When they research online, they went to the library.  When they are sending nostrums to friend, they are just having a fight.  When they post an image, they are sharing an album with friends during the evening.  In a way, my kids are living in world, where the safety lessons haven’t changed.

That is wonderful news for all us parents.  It means that you already have most of the tools you need to help keep them safe online.  In fact, the lessons you were taught before the online world came to our doorsteps are almost all the same as the lessons we can teach our own teens to keep them safer online.

Here are just a few ways you can impart your safety knowledge:

  1. Your kids love to show you what you know. Hold a tech learning session where you ask your teens to show you the latest and greatest apps and sites that they are using. During their lesson, ask questions about how they would handle certain situations.  You will find that they will start teaching you what they know about safety.  In the process, you get to be the parent voice.
  2. Talk to your teen about what they post. Ask them if they would be willing to blow up the photo they want to post and bring it to a school assembly for all to see.  It will resonate with something they know and they’ll remember.
  3. Take a deep breath when something happens. Teens need guidance, but they’ll listen only when they know you are too.  So instead of reacting quickly, think of responding thoughtfully.  Play out what has happened as though it was in the offline world, and bring those safety lessons you into the online environment you are dealing with.

And, know that you are not alone in your efforts to keep your kids safe. I am working alongside the veteran safety team at ASKfm every step of the way as they strive to offer their users the most advanced safety resources possible. Together, we are reviewing images, responding to inappropriate content, and empowering users to proactively manage their own accounts around the clock.

If at any time you have questions or concerns, however, please remember that the ASKfm team is here to help you.  By working together, we can demonstrate that the same parenting strategies that have proven effective across generations and we can use them to keep our teens safer online.