If you're the parent of a teen, chances are that they updated their Facebook page, posted pictures on Instagram or live-tweeted their summer activities. As August nears, summer vacation may be drawing to a close, but there are still plenty of extra hours to Whisper, Periscope, and Snapchat the day away. This makes it a prime opportunity for families to talk about responsible Internet use, limiting passive screen time, double-checking safety settings, and avoiding over-sharing.
The Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) recently partnered with Intel Security to take a look at what teens are doing online and exactly how much parents really know about their kids' digital lives. The result was the recently released Intel Security report, "The Realities of Cyber Parenting: What Pre-teens and Teens Are Up to Online." Through our work, we talk to parents from all over the world, and the most common narrative we hear is that technology moves so fast and it is difficult to stay up to speed with their tech savvy teens.
How to Start the Conversation on Technology
Parents often don't know where to begin when it comes to talking openly with their kids about what they are doing online and how to stay safe. Most parents surveyed believe that their child is more social media savvy than they are, and about a third rely on their own kids to provide help with technology. More than half of parents surveyed also rated their technology expertise as intermediate or novice, and those who are less confident shouldn't be afraid to let their kids be the teachers when it comes to technology and should talk to their kids about what they like doing online and what platforms they use.
This summer, let your kids guide you online. Have them instruct you about creating strong passwords, making an Instagram account, or limiting who can see your posts on Facebook. That way you can see how much they know about online safety, initiate a talk about experiences they've had, and look for resources and help together if needed. FOSI has some new app tip sheets to help learn about the latest apps kids may be using, like Periscope and Twitch, as well as other downloadable tools and an extensive blog of digital parenting advice.
The Importance of Protecting Reputation and Privacy
Another big concern for the majority of parents is their child's online reputation and how it might impact their ability to get into college or land a good job in the future. Parents can use relatable examples of celebrities over-sharing or experiencing hacking scandals to start a conversation with their teen about the kind of posts that will help show who they really are online, versus those posts that can damage their reputation. The end of summer break is a great time to talk to teens and pre-teens about not over-sharing, as the temptation to post pictures from vacations and parties will be high and it is a prime time for older teens to review their digital footprint as they begin to think about college applications.
It's also important to remember that many kids already have an awareness of the need to protect their data, as 78 percent of youth surveyed by Intel Security said that they are concerned about maintaining the privacy of their online personal information. Parents should encourage kids to review privacy settings and look at where they show up online and what they are publicly sharing on social media. One thing that we hear a lot from our interns is that they didn't know how important their online reputation would be when they were younger, so they talk to their siblings about it before they make the same mistakes. It's a good time to encourage some sibling bonding by getting older teens and college students to sit down with their younger siblings to share some lessons learned.
Approach Technology with Positivity
Most importantly for parents, it pays to keep a positive approach to technology in the household. This is a great time to get kids working together on digital projects such as an online scrapbook from a family vacation or watching YouTube videos to learn about a summer travel destination. To get through the dog days of August, FOSI has a list of 50 fun online summer activities for families like exploring digital museum collections, watching zoo web cams, and learning to cook from online videos that help provide families with activities that can translate from on screen into real life.
Take this time to encourage your family to connect and get some new tech skills, but also to have important discussions about not over-sharing, balancing screen time, using privacy settings, and making sure the whole world can't see the video from your pool party.
(Disclosure: The Family Online Safety Institute receives funding from Facebook, Google, Microsoft and a number of other Internet companies. A version of this blog post originally appeared on fosi.org/parenting)