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The Online Mom provides internet technology advice and information to help parents protect their kids, encourage responsible behavior and safely harness the power of technology in the new digital world. Social networking, photo sharing, video games, IM & texting, internet security, cyberbullying, educational resources, the latest on tech hardware, gadgets and software for kids 3-8, tweens and teens, and more.

Set Boundaries to Teach Online Responsibility

By Tracey Dowdy

I think it’s safe to say that kids who have grown up in a “always-had-a-cell-phone, movies-instantly-available-on-Netflix, just-Google-it” world have a comfort level with technology that even the savviest of parents will never know. However, that level of familiarity can bring a certain level of complacency and possibly carelessness when it comes to what gets posted online.

We’ve determined that our kids must be 16 to drive a car, 18 to vote and 21 to have a drink, but the age at which they can text private messages or post photos on Tumblr is pretty vague. As a general rule of thumb, if your child isn’t old enough to leave the house unsupervised, they shouldn’t be online unsupervised.

As parents, it’s important to teach our kids boundaries early on. That’s easy to say, but how do we actually put that into practice? Here are some tips to help you teach your kids the value of discretion:

Passwords should always be kept secret

According to a survey by WiredSafety, “75 percent of 8- to 9-year olds shared passwords with someone else, and 66 percent of girls in grades 7 to 12 said they shared their password with someone else.”

Keeping passwords secret means never sharing them via email or typing them on a computer you don’t control, including logging into accounts on a friend’s phone. You don’t hand out keys to the front door of your home; sharing passwords is no less dangerous.

Educate yourself on what they’re into

Keeping up with what’s cool is a never-ending quest for your kids and it should be for you as well. This doesn’t mean you need to have an account on all the social media platforms your kids are using, but you should be familiar with what’s happening and the kind of content being posted. Most social media websites have age limits but it’s up to you to check if they’re abiding by the rules. Don’t rely on the site to ensure your child is telling the truth about his or her age.

Encourage real world relationships

In a world where it’s not uncommon for family members to text each other from different rooms in the same house, it’s important to urge your kids to connect with friends and family face to face. It’s easy to hide behind a computer or phone screen, which can encourage negative behavior such as bullying. Kids whose primary socialization is in the real world have a much better understanding of the phrase “if you wouldn’t say to their face, you shouldn’t say it online.”

Trust is a privilege, not a right

As in all other areas of their lives, your kids should have to earn the right to privacy. Teach them to pay attention to privacy settings on social media sites and, as they mature, allow them greater freedom in choosing which online communities they’re allowed to join. If your children are young and just starting out, let them know you’ll be monitoring their online presence closely. As they mature and demonstrate a level of responsibility, step back and give them more privacy.

In the words of Cynthia Edwards, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Meredith College in Raleigh, NC,
“Start the conversation early, and keep the conversation going.”

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, Ontario. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology.

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