Children learn the rules of acceptable social behavior from their surroundings. They take cues about the way to act and react in specific situations from their parents, friends and peers. Things are not different when they join the online world. We, however, can help them be in the right surroundings.
In August 2019 we conducted an independent study of more than 500 parents of Generation Alpha kids to look at how technology is affecting children’s relationships, academics, and social challenges. The research has shown that only 2% of the children, born from 2010 onwards, does not use technology.
As children, we were taught to make a difference between staged situations and people we see on TV, and the real-life issues we face. Nowadays, the situation is a bit more complicated. As parents, we are in a more of a challenge than our parents were, since it is up to us to explain the kids how to make a difference between what is staged and what is real in the world that knows no barriers. Not to forget the importance of teaching them how to navigate through life and face the challenges of growing up both in an online and offline world.
That is why it’s vital to introduce your child to the world of digital slowly and gradually, guiding them along the way. Just like when you are taking them to the playground and showing them the ropes.
Rules of Etiquette
There is a real reason for the rule of not allowing children younger than 13 to join social networks. However, our children are exposed to social media much earlier than the rules allow. The research stated that parents feel that a child should have their own smartphone by the time they are 12, while they are exposed to the online world since their birth through YouTube baby channels and the content of them on their parents’ social media profiles. Regardless of the age limits imposed by the social media platforms, it is up to us to help the children learn some basics of the online world. Let’s call these rules “Rules of Etiquette”.
They underline interactions with other people online, and put an emphasis on safety, authenticity and how they should manage their personal brands:
1. The Golden Rule
One of the first things we teach our children is to treat others as we ourselves would like to be treated. While golden rule has always been applicable, in the time of anonymous comments, it became more important than ever. It is our responsibility to teach our children to be kind.
We need to teach them to show kindness, not only in the offline world, but in the online too – their online behaviour is as important as their offline one.
Our research has shown that without parental control 49% of Gen Alpha kids would have been exposed to cyberbullying, while 47% of Gen Alpha girls have already been exposed to cyberbullying. Teaching our children kindness and rules of online behaviour is vital to their healthy development.
Here is what I would say:
Always treat others how you would like them to treat you. You may not like the person and may not want to interact with them. Unfriend them if you want, as is your right, but always keep your composure and be kind.
2. Take care of your digital footprint.
It’s important for children to realize as early as possible is that everything we share on the Internet is permanent and can very easily turn public. When they are 13 this may not be much of an issue but we have to think long-term. What happens when they apply for college? What happens when they apply for a job?
Every comment, click, post leaves a mark in the online world. A mark that once made cannot be taken away. We form our opinion of others through their online interaction with us and others. And we do so by observing what they post, watch, listen (Spotify, anyone?), and pin.
Research shows that 31% of college admission officers visit applicant’s social media profiles to know more about them. More disturbingly, about 30% of them have already rejected an applicant due to information they found online. But it is not only college recruiters we need to prep our digital footprint for. It is future employers, friends, partners, neighbours etc. So take care of your digital footprint.
Don’t post or share anything you would not mind being seen by everyone. While European Union citizens have the “Right to Be Forgotten”, that is not the case in the US. Also, no one guarantees that that embarrassing message or picture of you is not lurking on someone’s phone, waiting to be resurrected at the worst possible moment.
3. Register your domain and email address.
If your child is a keen blogger, has a cool idea they like to vlog about or anything that goes along it, make sure you consider registering a domain under their name. With the online world expanding, so are its addresses or domains. So, it would be wise to ‘reserve’ their online address before it is taken away by someone else.
There will come a time when you will want to register an email address – be it to apply for a service or just staying in touch with your family. Be careful when choosing it. We were all young and unconcerned with the future once, but this email address will follow you into your adulthood so try to refrain from things like firstname.lastname@example.org, or even worse email@example.com.
The best thing would be to register a personalized domain name with which you will get a number of email addresses you can customize as you like. For example firstname.lastname@example.org. That domain name can also serve you to build your personal website that will host all important information about you: information that you will, as opposed to when it comes social media, fully control and own.
4. App Privacy Settings
Don’t shy away from asking your pre-teens to show you what they know about privacy settings and how they have adjusted them. The ideal situation? They have adjusted the settings for maximum privacy. But more likely there will be a need for some tweaking and learning and this is what you could do together. This will go a long way for them to understand the importance of online privacy and how to adjust the privacy settings of the app they use.
5. Use different usernames and passwords.
While children with smartphones are like fish in the water, their understanding of all the dangers lurking online is abstract at best. We are here to help them to protect themselves online. One way to do it is to start talking with them about the issue of online privacy as soon as possible.
Due to the security reasons, they should never use the same username and password for two different accounts. Also, talk to them about the prominence of cyber threats, a rising number of hacked profiles etc. Their passwords should always strong – this means it should include at least one upper case, a character, a number, and never be less than 8 characters long.
Try to use different usernames and passwords for every service or app you sign up for. Adjust your privacy settings, keep your password unique and turn on two-step identification whenever possible. That way, even if someone gains access to one of your online accounts, remaining ones will still be safe.
6. Don’t share personal or confidential information online.
There is no reason why your children should share their home address, phone number, Social Security number, credit card numbers or passwords online, even if the social network they are part of has that option.
In order to protect the child’s safety, make sure to explain to them the danger of posting photos in front of their school, in front of the plaque with the name of the street, or anything that would give any information about their daily lives to complete strangers.
Also, explain to your child that sending passwords, bank account details through online messaging platforms is never a good idea, since those messages can be intercepted. Teach them about the safety of sharing confidential information online.
You would be careful with whom you are sharing your phone number within the real world so just make sure you exercise the same caution online.
7. Don’t talk to strangers.
I have noticed that children often feel pressured about accepting friend requests and following people back. Declining a friend request usually makes them feel really uncomfortable. Same goes for not following someone back or asking someone to untag them from a picture. Talk to them and explain that if you would not spend time with someone offline, there is no reason to do it online, and that we all have the right and privilege to choose our own company.
Also, make sure you have a talk with them about the people they talk to when playing online games, especially if someone is pressing them for information, giving rude and disturbing comments, regardless if written or oral.
Tell them they can and should block, report and unfriend all the profiles that upset and disturb them, and they should feel no pressure or shame in talking to you about it.
Same as you would not talk to strangers on the street, don’t talk to strangers online. It’s even easier to hide your true identity and intentions online than offline, so just be careful about sharing information with unknown people.
8. Be careful what you share about yourself and about others too.
Once, sharing a secret with a wrong person used to make us want to die of embarrassment, and even then, the situation was contained to a class, school or neighbourhood. Now, with just a few taps on our keyboards, we are facing a potential audience of hundreds, thousands, even millions if it goes viral.
Be considerate about other people when sharing information about them. Never, ever, ever share what was told to you in confidence. It is always best to ask permission, starting with people closest to you.
Nothing ever is deleted, even if you press the delete button. Be sure to remember that. This applies even to things said/written in secrecy to someone online, since the record of your words will remain somewhere on server that can be hacked, or your conversation can be screenshotted and sent to others.
How do we teach children to be aware of what they share? By asking for permission to share pictures or information related to them on our social media profiles and respecting their decision.
9. Never type when angry.
Both online and offline, it’s always better to sleep it off, calm down and clear your head before addressing an issue, else you may say something you will later regret. Sometimes it’s hard even for us as adults to obey this rule, but we should still communicate it to kids as early as possible.
So make sure you keep your head cool even if angry or upset.
There will come a time when you will be very angry and hurt and when you will want to strike back at the person who caused you to feel this way, but when that happens come to me. Let me make you a cup of tea and let’s talk about it.
While some think that controlling your child makes you a “helicopter parent” in the online world it is absolutely necessary to set boundaries, guide and monitor your child’s activities. Don’t be afraid to friend them, check their passwords, go through their friend lists or messages. That is not being overly controlling or over-protective; a child of 13 (and we don’t even want to discuss those under 13) does not know acceptable forms of behavior and can only learn from you.
In the research we conducted, we found out that without parental protection:
- 66% of Gen Alpha kids would have been exposed to adult content
- 49% of Gen Alpha kids would have been exposed to cyberbullying
- 35% of Gen Alpha kids would have been susceptible to identity theft
- 69% of Gen Alpha kids would have been at risk to screen addiction
One last, and maybe most important, piece of advice: Talk to your kids and let them know that they can always count on you and your advice when it comes to anything that is upsetting them, online or offline.
Is there something you would add to this? Something that you think it’s important to talk about with children? If there is, please let us know, as we would love to hear your thoughts on it!
Upon having done an independent study in August 2019 on how today’s children navigate through the increasingly digital world we decided to update this article to include views on Gen Alpha.
This article is part of our series on Generation Alpha
We seek to provide answers to your most pressing questions about keeping your kids safe online, introducing them to the digital world, and helping them be their authentic selves online.
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