Digital Citizenship: A Guide for Parents

Raising children is challenging, even more so once your kids are using the internet. As a parent, your role is important, even if you are not as tech savvy as your pre-teen. Conversations around digital devices as children grow will help create an atmosphere that is comfortable for children to approach you should anything go wrong for them as they live their parallel lives online.

Five Key Tips for Digital Parenting

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Here are five key tips to guiding your kids to safe and responsible digital lives:

Don’t be scared!

You hear a lot of scary stuff about kids and the internet, but the fact is that most kids do just fine. Think of the internet as being like a swimming pool: the best way to keep your kids safe is to teach them how to stay safe.

Talk to your kids.

Don’t wait until things have already gone wrong to talk to your kids about online issues, and don’t just have one “big talk.” What your kids need from you is guidance, so they’re prepared to deal with problems before they happen, support from you when things do go wrong, and for you to reinforce these messages by continuing to talk to them as they get older and are more able to make decisions for themselves. The three main sections of this guide have lots of tips on how to talk about all of the major online issues. If you have older kids and haven’t talked to them about the internet yet, don’t worry: it’s never too late to start!

Be a part of your kids’ media lives.

What your kids are watching, playing, reading and listening to is a big part of the person they’re turning into, and their online lives can be just as important to them as the “real world.” Younger kids are usually glad when their parents show an interest in the things they like, so get them to show you how their new favourite game works or why they’re so excited about joining a new social network. You can also use media to talk about sensitive issues: kids may be more comfortable talking about sexting or bullying when you’re discussing a character in a TV show than someone they know.

Be the person your kids come to when they have problems online.

A lot of the time, kids don’t want to go to their parents when things go wrong because they’re afraid they’ll get in trouble. When your kids start going online make sure they know clear procedures on what to do if things go wrong, like if they can’t figure out a game or they accidentally access something unpleasant. (Check out the “How do I talk about…” and “How do I …” sections below for some of these procedures.) If they’re in the habit of coming to you about the little things, they’ll be a lot more likely to talk to you about the big ones.

Set rules and communicate values.

The internet may seem like the Wild West sometimes, but the rules you set still affect how kids behave online. What’s most important is that your rules are a way of getting across the values you want your kids to live by, that way they’ll keep living by them even when they’re grown up and out on their own.

When should I let my child join a social network?

Most social networks require users to be at least 13 years to have an account. If you allow your child to join before that, be aware that you are violating the terms of service which may be a problem if you ever have to make a complaint and that if they life about their age may not get the protections that are there for users under 18.

Your kids probably won’t want to join just one social network, though, so here are some good questions for when they ask you to let them join a new one:

  • Why do you want to use it?
  • What do you life about it?
  • Who would you use it to connect with?
  • Who do you know that’s already on it?
  • How can you control who can connect with you?
  • How can you control who sees what you post on it?
  • What can you do if somebody sees or shares something you didn’t want them to?
  • What can you do if someone is bothering you or being mean to you?

How can I help my child use social network privacy settings?

Children should know about the privacy settings on their social networks, but don’t always know all the different things they can do. When they first get their account, let them be in the technical experts and show you that they can use them effectively to manage their privacy.

Ask your tween or teen to show you how to: for help answering these questions, visit the Privacy/Security/Safety centre of the social networking platform you are discussing!

  • Create a strong passPHRASE
  • Change the default privacy settings
  • Limit who can see a post or a photo
  • Tag and de-tag a post or a photo
  • Report someone else’s post or photo to the people who run the site
  • Block someone from contacting you

MediaSmarts Resources

For more information about the specific topics in this guide, check out these materials from MediaSmarts:

For Parents

Co-Viewing With Your Kids

Respect Feelings

Online Sexual Exploitation: Who is at Risk?

Parents’ Guide to Cyberbullying

Promoting Ethical Behaviours With Your Kids

Respect Privacy

Protecting Your Privacy on Commercial Websites

Talking To Your Kids About Sexting

Respect Property

Cyber Security Consumer Tip-sheet

Getting the Goods Ethically

Family Rules

Family Online Rules

Social Media Rules


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