I didn’t grow up with a personal computer. When I was a child, I couldn’t have imagined half of the amazing things computers and smartphones can do today – let alone that they would be so affordable and universally available that most people would have more than one.
Fast-forward to today and it is not surprising that children are growing up with technology at their fingertips. This technology can be used for tremendous good – the internet is a creative space where young people can have a voice, be imaginative, and also seek support and advice when needed.
However, we all have a responsibility to ensure that the internet and technology at large can be used safely. Technology providers have a responsibility to provide safety and reporting features in our products, as well as to educate people about how to be safer online. Parents can also play a part by having discussions about online safety and responsibility.
Parents need to feel confident to have online safety discussions with their children. Because, like me, most parents didn’t grow up with smart speakers, digital assistants and pocket computers, their kids can often be light years ahead of them in terms of understanding how to use digital tools.
However, parents know more about how to navigate difficult conversations and what is more appropriate for their children.
As a community, we’ve got so much more work still to do. Technology and the internet are going to be increasingly central to all of our lives. It’s incumbent on the tech industry to provide the best tools to parents, teachers and children so they understand how they are using the internet, as well as to keep families safe online.
Here are some tips to help parents teach their children to make better decisions and keep them safer online:
Teach good password hygiene
Teach them how to turn a memorable phrase into a strong password. Use at least eight mixed-case letters and change some to symbols and numbers. Help them understand what makes a weak password, such as using your own address, birthday, the numbers 123456 or the word ‘password’, which are easy for someone to guess. Teach them to think twice before entering their password anywhere and to double-check that it’s the right app or site. When in doubt, they should come and talk to you first. Encourage them to have different passwords for different apps and sites. They can have one main password that they add a few letters to for each different app.
Family rules about what to share
Set clear expectations for your family about what not to share online, such as photos or private information. Take a few photos together and talk about what responsible sharing looks like.
For example, encourage your child to think before sharing photos of themselves and of others. Remind them to ask permission if they aren’t sure. Talk to them about oversharing and understanding the long-term effects of posting information online. Also, think carefully about what information about your child you share online, and what they will think of you sharing that when they become adults.
Speak about online bullying
Talk about online bullying or times when people use online tools to be intentionally hurtful to others. Plan who your children could come to if they see or experience it. Ask if they or their friends have experienced online meanness.
Some questions you could ask are: What form did it take? How did it feel? Did you think that you had the power to help stop it by perhaps telling someone about a mean comment?
Be clear about how you expect them to act online. Treating others as they’d want to be treated and saying online only what they would say face to face are great starts.
Teach them about respect
We all need a reminder that, behind user names and profile pictures, there is actually a real person with real feelings, and that we should treat them that way.
Children can set a good example online by being a positive voice to their friends, not encouraging bad behaviour and not liking or responding to potentially hurtful comments or posts.
When in doubt, discuss
When your children come across something questionable, they should feel comfortable talking to a trusted adult. You can support this behaviour by fostering open communication at home. It’s important to help them identify people to turn to – people they can go to if they come across stuff online that makes them feel uncomfortable. A trusted person can help them process what they saw and discuss how it made them feel.
Lilley is child safety public policy manager at Google Europe, the Middle East and Africa