Teaching, Not Precluding, the Web
There can be so many risks associated with the online world, from the threat of identity theft to the potential for exposure to inappropriate content to the danger of child exploitation, that parents may be tempted to try to shield their child from the digital domain entirely. But not only is that impossible, it’s also unwise.
The reality is that the digital revolution is here. Now, more than ever, our lives revolve around the web. For many of us, cyberspace is where we work, learn, get our entertainment, and connect with the people we love. And if you want to prepare your child to thrive not just for today but for the increasingly digitized world of tomorrow, then you can’t avoid the cyberworld. But what you can do is teach them how to navigate it skillfully, safely, and smartly.
Gaming Your Way to Good Internet Citizenship
One of the most challenging aspects of teaching your kids how to be safe online derives from the fact that the risks are not only constantly changing, but they can also be difficult to understand and identify. This is particularly true for younger children, who may not yet have a solid understanding of important safety and security issues, such as the need to safeguard your personal data or how to remain alert to stranger danger online.
Fortunately, parents have several great resources for helping their kids learn good internet citizenship while having fun at the same time. Games such as Internland engage children through a series of challenging puzzles and quests. These games require players to master important online safety skills to advance to higher levels of the game.
Best of all, gameplay gets kids to apply these techniques in a range of different scenarios, helping them to retain, recall, and effectively use these skills.
Another engaging and nonthreatening approach to learning internet safety through gameplay is the bCyberwise Monster Family app for Android and iOS. The app addresses myriad challenges that today’s connected kids, and their parents, face every day. Topics such as respectful online communication, savvy social media use, and even the importance of strong passwords are explored through mini adventure games that children and adults alike will love.
Turning Kids Into Content Creators
If you’re like many parents, long months of pandemic lockdowns have likely sent you scrambling for ways to keep the kids entertained and occupied while Mom and Dad attend to work and home responsibilities. But just because pandemic restrictions are beginning to ease does not mean that you can’t use the time you and your little ones spend at home to discover new ways to safely engage in the digital domain.
Kids today are true digital natives, having grown up with access to technologies that their parents could not have begun to imagine at the same age. And that means that children are often far more technologically skilled than their parents realize.
These skills can be harnessed to great effect regarding teaching web safety by encouraging your child to become not just a digital content consumer, but also a content creator. For instance, helping your child create their own videos and animations can be an ideal way for them to learn about the “behind the scenes” realities of their favorite digital channels, the hidden processes their favored producers use to create content.
And ultimately that’s going to increase your child’s digital literacy, better equipping them to differentiate fact from fiction when consuming online content and thus making it less likely that they will fall prey to deceptive or nefarious materials. After all, there is perhaps no better way to master a medium than by actively engaging with it, no better way to learn than by doing.
A Family Affair
One of the scariest things about allowing your children to engage the internet is how easily the virtual door to your home and child may be opened to predators and others with evil intent. But it is possible to guard the gate to your little one while still giving them the freedom to take advantage of all the opportunities that the great World Wide Web provides.
In addition to educational gaming and digital content creation, children should also learn about internet safety through the policies that parents impose regarding technology use. The prioritization of internet safety at all times and in all contexts must inform every encounter with the child’s tech.
This must involve the effective use of firewalls and passwords, the rejection of suspicious apps and downloads, and the avoidance of insecure websites. Above all, this should include an approach to internet technology that sees every device and all the content on it not as private, but as the province of both the child and their parents.
For example, children should learn to expect that parents will monitor all of their online activity, including not only the use of online trackers and monitors but also regular inspections of the child’s devices. Children should expect parents to enter the room and look over their shoulder when online, to demand to see their smartphones and tablets without warning and to keep a current list of all the child’s online accounts and passwords.
If such an approach to the online world is integrated into the internet safety learning process from the beginning, then kids are less likely to see it as restrictive or punitive. Rather, parents can help children understand that family transparency when it comes to the internet is simply an aspect, perhaps the most important aspect, of online safety.
Given the risks that too often accompany the online world, parents may be tempted to ban their children from the internet entirely. But that may well do more harm than good. Rather than precluding children from the web, however, parents can teach kids about safe web search alternatives and how to use the internet safely, skillfully, and smartly.