I know the internet can be a scary place for moms. How much information do we share about our kids? Does keeping their name out of it make it better? I don’t know all the answers, but I know that we can’t completely shield them from the internet. I feel that we actually probably need to embrace it even more because their life is likely to involve some level of coding. They need to know how to use computers and navigate the internet. So how do we find that balance? My friend Cassie is here to tell you how it works in her house. I’m a fan because I know we can’t live in fear.
Confession: I use my kids for internet fodder all of the time.
That’s not to say I’m careless with the information; it’s just when people say write what you know, what I know is my kids. It’s not only simple, but it’s authentic. So I spill their stories on Facebook and share their photos with friends. I will leave advice all over mommy blogs to get feedback, share my knowledge and build a more informed world.
But doing so alerts me to the danger of my kids and the internet, and I can’t say I didn’t cringe the first time my firstborn took my phone and opened a browser all on her own.
When my children were younger, I worried they’d bump into everything in our house: corners, tabletops, bookshelves. Now that they’re older, I worry something horrible is going to happen to them on the internet: cyberbullying, catfishing, flaming, or stalking.
With everything out there these days, I have to make rules pretty much on the fly based on information I use in my everyday life. When it comes to social media accounts, it can be tricky. I want my kids to experience the fun of Tumblr—my kids, especially the older one, can’t get enough of One Direction, and that’s where all the best fangirl sites are—because it’s a great creative platform for them to connect with other people who are interested in the things they’re interested in. I want them to pursue their interests, and I want them to build character.
Instagram is the same way. This incredibly innovative platform is showing my kids the beauty of travel, the power of body positivity and even how to care about the natural world and learn how to be a more responsible citizen. But what about the trolls who are all over the place?
For these things, I keep my tools to help my kids pretty simple, and then I let them loose to use their own judgment. Parental blockers are definitely something I recommend for general topics I don’t want them to have access to. Net Nanny is great for my rambunctious bunch. I always install anti-malware software on the Dell so we’re keeping the pop-ups from causing a crash every time we try to find the latest Pokémon Go map of our hometown.
I also like to keep a Virtual Private Network (VPN) up and running to protect our information by giving us a private surfing connection—you just never know what kind of people are going to try to tap into your connection and try to grab your info. The great thing is that a VPN works on many devices, from iPhones to tablets to laptops, so I can be sure everything and everyone is safe even on the go.
For everything else, I have to employ some good ol’ parenting techniques, and the biggest one is making sure my kids treat others the way they want to be treated. When they see someone being bullied, they report it, whether by blocking the user or sending a message to Facebook. It’s responsible, it’s proactive, and it works. I also encourage them to make smart choices by not reacting to something they read on the computer and by stepping away from the keyboard any time they feel emotional. I think (and I hope) that this helps them learn not to say the first thing that comes to their head and then post it straight to the web where the world can find it forever.
Lastly, I let my kids know it’s okay to be curious, but at the end of the day, the world doesn’t begin and end with going online. Setting up constraints for websites is good, but for me, setting up constraints for web time, in general, is better. I want to help them manage their expectations when they’re young, and that includes making plenty of time for afternoon soccer practice, ballet lessons, and playdates.
At the end of the day, the best lesson I teach is the one I give to myself: I can’t control the world outside the front door, and I can’t control the internet. While I may try extra hard to influence them, the truth is those are two places my kids have to be able to master on their own to be successful in life. I want them to be successful without me—it’s the ultimate key to their happiness.
About the author: Cassie Phillips is a mommy of three and an avid techie and internet junkie. She loves to weigh in on internet security topics, as well as share anything that may (or may not) have happened to her kids.