Family Talks: Helping Kids Navigate Online Life

On our latest podcast episode, Let’s Talk About Helping Kids Navigate Life Online, Kate Mann of the Oshkosh Police Department and Lindsey Loewe from Collaborative Wellness joined us to discuss the ins and outs of screen time, social media, and how our kids can safely navigate our very online world. 

Having discussions with your kids can help them identify and avoid unsafe situations online with a heightened awareness of internet safety and help build critical thinking and decision-making skills relating to online safety. We have found that talking it out is often more effective than laying out rules.

Things to Discuss with Kids Using Electronics 

  • Stranger Danger – on the street, at home and online
  • Chatting online is like going out on Halloween
    • Everyone’s face is hidden
    • Unless you know your friend’s costume (online name), you don’t know if you’re talking to your friend or someone you don’t know
    • Any stranger can pretend to be a friend and you have no way of knowing who they are because they are behind the mask of the computer
  • Emails and messaging
    • Do not open emails from strangers
    • Do not open emails with attachments
    • Do not give out an email address (unless approved)
    • If someone uses a bad word, tell an adult
  • Appropriate Information to Share Online
    • Do Not Give Out Personal Information
      • Name
      • Where you live – city or address
      • Telephone Number
      • Birthdate
      • Height or weight
      • Photo
      • Parent’s name
      • School
    • Information you can give out
      • Likes and dislikes 
    • Examples
      • YES: Can you tell someone that your favorite color is red? That you like pizza? Type of pets that you have? Your favorite movie?
      • NO: Your favorite movie theater? Your favorite beach? Favorite teacher?  
  • Meeting People on the Internet
    • Have adults approve someone before you talk with them on the Internet
    • If someone asks to meet you – tell an adult immediately
    • Never arrange a face-to-face meeting with someone you met online   

Visual Supports Provide pictures or reminders of internet safety tips. A checklist of internet dos and don’ts can be effective. Also, consider lists of acceptable websites or reminders to check in with parents or teachers. Some families also use agreements. We liked this Family Media Agreement from Common Sense.

Scenarios for Discussion – Suggested Ages 8-12

Social narratives, scripts, or social stories can help to reinforce ideas about how to stay safe while using the internet. Mix it up to make it more relevant to your child. Role-playing different scenarios can also be fun. Here are some examples to get started!

  • Olivia has been talking online to a girl named Julie for a few days now. Emma has told Olivia where she lives, how old she is, where she goes to school, and what she looks like. Emma asks Olivia what school she goes to. 
    • Is it okay for Cindy to tell her?
    • What else shouldn’t Olivia tell Emma?
  • Jacob is online talking to his friend from school, Chris. They are working on their homework together and studying for a test. Chris says they should meet before class to review for the test. 
    • Is this okay?
    • Should Jacob also ask a parent just to make sure?
  • Isabella is talking to a friend online when she gets a message saying there is trouble with her computer and she needs to type in her online password again. 
    • Should she do it?
    • What should she do?
  • Ryan is talking to a friend online who he met on the internet. The friend offers to help him finish his homework and asks for Ryan’s phone number. 
    • Is it okay for Ryan to give it to him since it has to do with homework?
    • What should Ryan do?
  • Mia met Ava on the Internet and has been talking to Ava online for several months. Ava says she is the same age as Mia and lives nearby. Ava wants to meet Mia in the mall to go shopping. 
    • Should Mia go meet her?
    • What should she do?
  • Charlie got an e-mail from someone he doesn’t know, with a file attached. 
    • Should he open it?
    • What should he do?
  • Sophia gets an online message from a woman who says her name is Mrs. Anderson and tells Sophia that she is a math teacher. Mrs. Anderson wants to know what school Sophia goes to and what her teacher’s name is. 
    • Should Sophia tell her?
    • What should Sophia do?
  •  Isaac is online when he gets a message saying he won a free Xbox! He just needs to send in his address and phone number so it can be mailed to him. 
    • Should he give the information?
    • What should he do? 

How much does your kid know? Quiz them!

  1. Which is okay to give out over the Internet?
    • a) My last name
    • b) My school name
    • c) My teacher’s name
    • d) My favorite TV show
    • e) My address  
  2. While surfing the Internet, you see a website that makes you feel uncomfortable. What should you do?  
    • a) Write down the name and don’t go there again.
    • b) Tell your friends, so they can avoid it too.
    • c) Go tell a parent, guardian or teacher.
    • d)Unplug the computer.
  3. If someone online tells you they are in 6th grade and their name is Katie, they are probably how old?  
    • a) 12
    • b) 13
    • c) 35
    • d) There’s no way to tell!   
  4. If you have been talking on the Internet to a person for a long time, and they want to meet, which is okay to do?  
    • a) Meet them, as long as you bring a friend.
    • b) Meet in a public place.
    • c) Tell someone where you will be before you go.
    • d) Ask your parent or guardian first and have them go with you.
  5. If someone online sends you a message that is mean or makes you feel uncomfortable, you should:  
    • a) Erase them from your friend’s list.
    • b) Delete the message.
    • c) Insult them back
    • d) Tell a responsible adult
  6. You are talking to someone online, and they know some of the same people you know. Since they have many of the same friends as you, is it ok to give them your phone number if they ask?  
    • a) Yes
    • b) No
  7. It is okay to send someone online your picture when:  
    • a) They send you theirs first
    • b) You send them an old picture
    • c) As long as you don’t send them your address too
    • d) Only if a parent or guardian is with you and says it is okay

Answer Key: 1.  d     2.  c     3. d     4.  d    5.  d     6.  b    7.   d

Scenarios inspired by curriculum from San Juan Unified School District.

Find more parent resources in our article, Resources for Helping Kids Navigate Life Online.

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