One of the very best ways we can teach our kids to be safe and responsible online is to arm them with the ability to think critically.
We can talk about safety filters and privacy settings and security software, which are all good and necessary, particularly when our kids are young. As they get older however, we begin to lose that control over what they are doing, where they are hanging out, who they are interacting with and what they are sharing. To prepare them best for this time, we must instil in them the ability to think critically about all that they do online.
The following questions are questions we need our kids to be consciously thinking of all the time so that as they continue to grow and learn, these questions to themselves become subconscious behaviours.
Examples of questions our kids must ask themselves in order to be critical thinkers
Is this person someone I know and trust? What proof have I got that they are who they say they are?
Is this interaction likely to open myself up for a positive or negative experience?
At what point do I shut myself off from an interaction when I feel it heading in the wrong direction?
When I read anything online, what proof have I got that it is true?
How do I know that it is fact or opinion?
What sorts of things can I do to verify information?
Is what I am sharing, looking at or who I am interacting with, sending out the correct message? Am I being perceived the way I want to be?
Have I accurately articulated what I meant to say? Could my words be read differently without context or tone of voice? Likewise am I reading something the way it was intended or am I misinterpreting due to lack of context or tone of voice?
Now of course it is no good reading out these questions and expecting our kids to remember them and then actually think about them when they are next online.
These are lessons that must be learned over time and of course with our help.
When they start out using the internet and interacting online we need to have these questions in the back of our minds so we can help get the messages across through practical examples. When they are researching for an assignment or simply to find something out, we can be asking them the sorts of questions to get them thinking about content, and what is true, what is real, what is advertising etc. When we see an interaction that is nasty or disrespectful, we can talk about possible consequences.
Every time they do something online whilst we are with them, these questions can be in the back of our minds ready to pounce on any teachable moments.
We know that lectures rarely work and often result in eye rolling, especially when it is about the online world where our kids feel much more at home than many parents. Just as I love to give my kids one minute conversations to help things sink in, we also need to make sure our information is spilled out a little and often. We need these lessons and understandings to become part of their natural but critical thinking.