Think Before You Click: Internet Safety Tips for Parents
"Your clicks have consequences," says Clay Johnson, author of The Information Diet. Johnson writes about the impact of consuming a poor information diet, "unhealthful information deep-fried in our own preconceptions."
We are all one click away from being pulled into an information portal, filled with erroneous, distracting and at times dangerous material. We are also one click away from making a public gaffe, mistakenly sharing information not intended for a wider audience, in the form of an email, a wall post, text or chat message.
We've all heard the admonition "think before you post." The new mantra should be "think before you click." It's hard to stay true to this statement in practice, especially as we endure a fast-paced, real-time information onslaught.
To Filter or Not to Filter
How can parents help to instill the "think before you click" mindset in their child? Should parents use filters to help with this process?
The value of filters is that they make it harder to slip easily into objectionable content. The filter wall asks the user to stop, pause and think before clicking further. The filter in essence serves as the conscience on your shoulder and slows the pace of super-fast clicks that can have consequences, in terms of both faulty information and sharing information that should not be seen by a wide audience.
One advantage of filters, particularly as mobile devices make working in one shared space more difficult to manage, is that the filter creates a walled garden to protect the online content that can enter the household when a parent is not around.
One disadvantage is that the filter creates a false sense of security and abdication on the part of the parents. If there is a filter, the thinking goes, then it's easy for the parent to say, "I'm off the hook, and now I don't need to monitor what my kid does online." Also, kids are savvy and can easily figure out ways to skirt the filter. The parent can end up playing a game of cat and mouse with the child, particularly as the child gets older and grows more sophisticated.
The ideal scenario is one in which the child listens to "the little voice" propped on his or her shoulder. For some children, that means having the additional hurdle of the filter in place, to ensure wait time before forging ahead into questionable online territory.
The key component is to engage in and facilitate regular conversation around responsible use, and help to nurture "the little voice" that sits atop each child's shoulder.
As with any parenting choice, the question to consider is what will the child do when confronted with a situation outside of the home, away from the home ground rules, whether or not there are filters imposed.
For example, a child is at a sleepover in a household with no filters and loose supervision. The child is playing online with the friend and they explore a social networking site like Omegle, which advertises the possibility of meeting strangers. The kids start to "play" and encounter a stranger who starts asking personal questions.
What will the child do? Will the child say anything to their parent? Filters won't answer these questions, though the filter might or might not have blocked entry into Omegle in the first place.
This is a tough spot for a kid to be in and it can be especially tricky if the other child wants to continue to "play" and does not see the danger or inappropriateness of the "play."
What options does the child have?
- Stop "playing" and walk away.
- Tell the parents.
- Say nothing and continue to "play," but at a distance.
- Ask to call home and be picked up right away (some parents choose to use a conversation code for when the child wants to be picked up, so it's not obvious that the child wants out).
It's important for parents to rehearse these types of specific situations so that children can see possible, positive outcomes when uncomfortable online scenarios arise.
The parent is then helping the child develop "the little voice" to use when the parent is not around.
The "information diet" that children consume has consequences, as do the clicks. Parents need to figure out the best way to approach teaching "think before you click," and schools can serve as the sounding board for helping each parent to determine how to handle their individual child and household. It's challenging for parents to do this work alone, and they don't need to. Schools have hundreds of data points and can help parents navigate the best approach to take with their children in the area of clicks and consequences.