More than Facebook: Helping our kids stay safe online

Keeping an eye on all that our children are doing online is not only time consuming and tedious, but it is almost impossible. We can certainly monitor what sorts of things they are accessing from home, keep track of how long they are online and control some of the devices they are using. As our children grow and their online world becomes a portable little extension of their own existence however, it becomes evident that keeping tabs on everything they are doing is both frustrating and futile.

I am the first to argue that we need to make a definite attempt to keep up with what our kids are doing online. I spend a substantial amount of time online myself and through my work have considerable knowledge of all that is available. But they are often a step ahead. And if I find it difficult, I can only imagine others would also find it rather daunting.

I know many people who have kids who are not allowed on Facebook. Interestingly these same kids are following me or my son on Instagram and on other apps and websites. I also know many parents havnt heard of most of the social networking sites their kids are visiting. The problem isnt that they are using these sites, but rather that these kids are spending a considerable amount of time taking photos, commenting on others, having conversations, accepting strangers as friends and giving away many details via their photos about where they live, what they like to do and who they are ‘hanging out’ with.  Likewise I also know many parents who havn’t heard of Tumblr yet their kids have an extensive profile there that they are adding to daily. Many kids are in fact moving away from some of the regular sites like Facebook to other places where they are not subjected to the same adult scrutiny. Others are messaging friends via Kik and Touch and tomorrow it will be something else.

So what is a parent to do then if it is all too hard and is constantly changing ?

The most important thing to do is to teach our children online social skills that will see them prepared for any website, any app or any new social networking site. If we give them the skills to understand the implications of everything they do online, then we can hope that these skills remain whatever changes happen within their online world.

Yes it will continue to change. Yes you will feel like you can never keep up. But make an attempt to understand their world, teach, support and guide and the rules can remain the same.

Some of the most important skills revolve around setting boundaries and time limits that help them regulate their own behaviour. We need to make them aware of their digital footprint and the implications of everything they do online. We can make them accountable and follow family rules, discuss the difference between pucblic and private and talk openly, honestly and often.

So rather than focusing on whether you are allowing your kids on Facebook, whether they are befriending you on every app and whether you have access to their content, spend more time teaching them the skills they will need to safely navigate all areas of the online world.


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This Post Has 28 Comments

  1. Fiona

    Could not agree with you more. It is definitely not just about facebook – for example one of the most popular sites for young people is Tumblr – and they can be exposed to quite a lot there. I do however find that Facebook is a great training space for parents to get an understanding of the attraction of social media and despite some drawbacks, it is a very good space for working with your children to develop their online social skills. I work with parents to help them bridge that divide between their technically savvy kids and their own knowledge, and to introduce from the very beginning, the concept of good social etiquette and respect in the space. Parents MUST be in the space to some degree. I also talk to parents about the modern networked home, and ways we can modify how we are set up to ensure our children are not isolated on their computer. Working together and using social media to spread the message about keeping safe online is something we can all do..

    1. Martine

      Absolutely Fiona. In all of my speaking sessions to parents I also strongly advocate parents getting involved and you are right Facebook is usually the one parents get a lot of enjoyment from and an understanding of how the whole social networking idea is appealing…and even often addictive! Knowledge is always power. Thanks so much for visiting.

  2. Salz

    I agree completely. I’m lucky that my 9 and 8 yr old don’t have any interest of anything to do with facebook. But when the time comes they can have it but closely monitored by me and they are only allowed to have their friends and cousins on. My children now like to go to game sites and they chat to people and they know that they are not to use their real names and they are not to say where they live, school they go to etc. They are always reminded and they have only a 1 hour time limit on the pc.

    1. Martine

      It is great you already have time limits in place as this is a great habit to get into. And you are right, even if they are not on Facebook, there are still plenty of other ways that kids are connecting and so need to have some clear boundaries 🙂

  3. Lyndal

    what a great tip – teaching them skills for safety rather than banning certain sites… it would certainly make a lot more sense 🙂


    1. Martine

      Thanks Lyndal. It does make sense when there are new sites and ‘hangouts’ starting up daily.

  4. yvette

    agreed!! When my lil ones are old enough.

    #teamIBOT was here to say hello!!

    1. Martine

      Thanks yvette….and trust me they will be old enough before you know it!

    1. Martine

      Thanks Rachel.

  5. Rachel @ The Kids Are All Right

    You make some very important points Martine – it is so not just about Facebook. Two years ago it was all Facebook, last year Tumblr was added to the mix, this year Instagram. We’ve also had Formspring and a couple of others come and go. Instagram is certainly one to keep an eye on – it’s all photos based (as most of us know) and that’s one of the easiest way for kids to cross boundaries online. But Tumblr is also the Wild West of social networking – far more than Facebook. I can’t help but agree with Fiona’s comment – parents NEED to be in the space, if they want to have any visibility or understanding. And to add to your advice, in my experience, you don’t just have this conversation once. It is a matter of ongoing vigilance, ongoing reminding. Kids and teenagers have short memories and do not think about the future – you need to be the voice of reason (or of the future 🙂 ) for them. Thanks for another great post.

    1. Martine

      Thanks Rachel, and great point about regularly revisiting the conversation. They certainly do have short memories (for certain things anyway!)

  6. Kylez...aka...Mrs.P

    I said exactly this to my husband the other night. Who knows what sorts of things will be around by the time our daughter is old enough to be doing any of it. But I hope that when she is I can teach her simple rules to follow so that I can hopefully trust she will be doing the right thing and will understand the impact of her online world.

    1. Martine

      Thanks Kylie, and I am sure if you are already thinking about it then you are well on the way to helping her be responsible online. 🙂

  7. Jess

    I love your tips Martine, but just reading this, I wonder if we as parents spent more time building our relationship with our kids, if we would have the same problems? I maybe naive, but I honestly hope to have the kind of relationship with my kids, where they wouldn’t feel the need to get around the rules, but be open about their online happenings.
    I can’t help but thing getting back to a basic level of respect in our relationships would mean these principles would just be considered common sense.

    1. Martine

      I agree Jess that building our relationships is certainly one of the most important aspects in helping them to respect both themselves and us. Unfortunately though as kids get older and their influences change, many are not always great at thinking about the consequences of their actions or looking too far into the future. This is not always something they are completely in control of either. The way the teenage brain develops means the part that looks after consequence and rationality is developed way after the areas that encourage risk taking and the like. So for many kids it is important that we as parents keep these conversations going, keep the boundaries enforced and help them get to a stage where they can mange themselves responsibly. I just think it is too risky to hope that they get it right and that they instinctively have all the answers. Thanks again for visiting 🙂

  8. PlanningQueen

    One of the nest posts I have read on this topic Martine. Going to add it to my post for tomorrow which I wrote awhile ago – think all parents need to read this. Thanks for sharing such a realistic perspective.


    1. Martine

      Thanks so much Nic, and thanks for adding me to your post 🙂

  9. Collett Smart

    Love this post. Thank you Martine! Seen more kids in the last few weeks than I care to count, who have had online trouble purely because parents just don’t talk about any of this.

    1. Martine

      Thanks Collett. Heres hoping we can help parents to see the benefit of being involved:)

  10. Collett Smart

    Love this post. Thank you Martine! Seen more kids in the last few weeks than I care to count, who have had online trouble purely because parents just don’t talk about any of this.

  11. Enid Bite'Em

    I’m glad you’ve made the point about control; it is impossible to control, it is so much more important to teach children and teenagers how to be safe online (or as safe as possible) and for parent to be aware of these sites themselves … I was looking at high-schools for my five-year-old the other day, and one particularly struck me as a good choice, because the principal had published on their website, a view that was much the same as yours: he obviously knew what he was talking about, and understood the need to equip rather than alarm (interesting, as it wouldn’t have been an issue I would have even thought about when my son was born).

    1. Martine

      Yes there are many issues that are around now that weren’t when my sons were born! Great that schools are getting on to it too.

  12. Johnny Oneal

    Like a lot of parents, I’ve been struck by how active my kids and their friends are with social media. I believe all children need online social skills training. We may not be able to teach our children the ins-and-outs of Instagram, but we do need to guide them through the basics of interacting online—even if that means we need to learn the basics ourselves, first.

  13. Grace

    Another fabulous post, Martine. While I’m also an advocate for parents to try and understand all these new social media technologies, I don’t think a parent can emphasise enough to their children the importance of the skills to protect themselves from what’s potentially out there.
    I’m attending a focus group in the next couple of weeks with some mothers to discuss this very issue. It’ll be interesting, no doubt.

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