How to Have 'The Talk' With Your Kids
How to Have 'The Talk' With Your Kids

 

by Kim Boatman

Scam artists, sexual predators, cyber bullies -- so many dangers lurk online.

These days, equipping your kids to be safe on the Internet is just as essential as talking about the birds and the bees, and that requires conversations about the things that make many parents squeamish. But experts say if you handle the subject correctly, "the talk" doesn't have to make either of you squirm in your seat.

Build Trust

Don't wait until your kid signs up for that Facebook account or until he or she reaches a certain age, says author Larry Rosen, a research psychologist and professor at California State University, Dominguez Hills, who has written books about parenting the"iGeneration."

"You've got to communicate in order to garner trust with your kids," says Rosen."That communication has to start as soon as you let them use any technology, even if it's using your iPhone to play a game or watch television."

Tom Jacobs, a retired juvenile judge and the creator and moderator of teen law website www.askthejudge.info, seconds Rosen's recommendation.

"I'm a firm believer in speaking with kids about online speech when the first digital device is brought into the home," says Jacobs, who adds that conversations should be age appropriate.

As you start these first conversations, you are building trust. Rosen uses what he calls the TALK model: T is for trust, A is for assess, L is for Learn and K is for communicate … even if it doesn't have a"K" in it, notes Rosen with a laugh.

Once a week, gather your family together for a meeting. Have everyone sit on the floor to"equalize the power balance," says Rosen."The rule is the parents talk one-fifth the time the kids talk. In other words, for every five minutes, the parents talk one minute, the kids talk four."

Work on your listening skills and ask open-ended questions such as"What do you like about the iPad? What's fun for you? Have you gotten any new apps or games?""You are letting your kids realize this is a very safe place to talk about their feelings. You want your kids' trust so if something does happen, you will be the one they come to," says Rosen.

Family dinner also offers a time where you can introduce topics such as cyber-bullying. "Bring up things you've read about. Keep learning and paying attention," advises Rosen.

If you begin early, discuss issues such as netiquette -- being kind, respectful and communicating online without being hurtful -- teachers will likely reinforce those messages when your child starts school, says Jacobs.

Stay Informed

Take the time to do your homework when it comes to your kids' activities online. If your child mentions a new website or online network, visit the site and educate yourself.

"When dealing with young kids and middle school students, parents should know their passwords and all of the accounts their kids are on," says Jacobs. This is where you can trade on the trust you've built over the years. Your kid should understand that you're there to help if problems such as cyber-bullying arise.

When your child enters the teen years, you have to learn to balance your protective instincts with your teen's need for privacy.

Don't Be Judgmental

Communicating thoughtfully encourages your kid to come to you when problems arise, whether he or she has fallen for an online scam or is uncomfortable about a communication received from a stranger. According to Rosen, even your demeanor as you ask those open-ended questions can affect your child's willingness to come to you."When you ask these questions, you have to smile," says Rosen."Your kid reads your face."

It's a good idea to have a technology contract with your teen, just as young drivers often have contracts with their parents."Parents agree they will not shut the computer down and close their son's or daughter's Facebook account if the teen comes to them with a problem," says Jacobs."That's the major fear of every teen when it comes to cyber-bullying. Instead, the parent agrees to resolve the problem through either the school, the bully's parents and/or law enforcement. But the teen's online life will not be shut down."

Listening, asking questions and being nonjudgmental equips you to spot problems."If all of a sudden, your kids stop communicating this way, that's when the parent red flag should go up," says Rosen.

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Parenting: "How to Have 'The Talk' With Your Kids"