From Lego to GoldieBlox, this year nearly every package under the Christmas tree came with instructions. Every one that is, but the ones that needed them the most: internet-enabled devices like smartphones, tablets and gaming consoles. Sure they come with basic instructions telling you how to get the device working so you can start playing your game or texting your friends, but the real instructions are missing. You know, the ones that can help make your online experience a happy, less threatening one – the instructions for safely navigating through our mediated reality.
Kids as young as five (probably even younger) often have iPhones and iPads these days. Nine year olds have YouTube accounts filming their dance moves and Minecraft worlds (don’t tell YouTube; the minimum age is 13). Their parents, the only ones that need the instructions to set up the devices, are left to try and fill in for the missing guide. The same people that have been sharing their kids’ lives online since the first ultrasound; the ones who are themselves trying to figure out the online world and too often learning the hard way that the internet never forgets. So, to try and help, I’ve put together a list of ten very basic instructions to help parents and kids navigate this world. These steps are by no means exhaustive and are really just the tip of the iceberg. The main thing is that they should be used to spark a conversation: a two-way conversation that evolves with changes in technology and the needs of the users.
Before opening a new internet enabled device, please sit down in a comfy spot with your parents or kids and read the following steps.
- The first thing you must do is set passwords for the device and all online accounts. A password is a secret set of letters and numbers that give you and only you access to your device and accounts. A unique password should be used for each individual account. Of course, it’s way easier to re-use the same password but that convenience can come at a cost. It means that if someone can figure out that one password they can access all your online information, get into your bank accounts, emails, Instagram or Tinder accounts. Nobody wants that. So, don’t take the easy route, create unique passwords for each account.
- When creating passwords, make it tricky for someone that you know to guess. Your name, date of birth or pet’s name…not very tricky. Use a mixture of capitals, letters, numbers and characters. For example, turn something simple like “snowshoe” into a hard-to-crack password like: “sN0wSho3!”. No one would ever guess it, especially if you’re like me and you’re not a big fan of snowshoeing.
- Now that passwords are set, it’s important to review what it means to keep passwords SECRET. First, let’s talk about sharing your password with your BFF, boyfriend or girlfriend. For the sake of brevity, just don’t do it. There is absolutely no reason anyone else needs to have access to your device and definitely no reason why anyone else needs access to your email, Instagram or Snapchat accounts. Now, I know parents think they should have these passwords and as a parent, that’s your prerogative, but there is another way that is based on open communication, trust and respect. Have your child write down their password, put it in an envelope. Once the envelope is sealed, both child and parent sign the back. At any time, the parent can open the envelope (with the child) and spot check the password, if it’s still the same, have them change the password, re-seal and start over. If the password has changed without the parent’s knowledge a different conversation needs to be had. This idea is borrowed from Jesse Miller’s website.
- When setting up your online profiles, leave some things for the imagination. You don’t really need to provide your home address, phone number or date of birth. You also don’t need to list your family members, what school you go to or your favourite colour. The people who need to know this information probably already have it. The further afield you go in this new mediated reality, you will find that everyone wants your personal information. The important thing to remember is that they don’t need to have it. Some things should be on a need to know basis, and Facebook doesn’t need to know what city you were born in. Why? It’s simple: if other people have access to all of your personal information it becomes easier for them to “steal” your identity. “I’m a kid, what do I care if someone steals my identity”, you may ask. Well, you will care, if someone starts opening up Instagram or gmail accounts pretending to be you and starts being mean to your friends and family or posting things to embarrass you.
- Stop reading these instructions. Talk to the person you’ve been sitting on the comfy couch with reading these instructions. See where these conversations take you. It might take an hour or even day, but come back and finish these instructions.
- Don’t click on links in text or emails from people you don’t know. If you get a text telling you to click on a link in order to claim a prize, just delete it. Trust me, even if you entered a contest where the prize is a huge sum of money that won’t be the only way you will be contacted. More likely it’s someone “phishing” for your personal information. Sometimes the links contain a virus that can infect your device or copy the information you have stored, including your passwords. It can be tricky to tell real messages from real companies from the fake ones. That’s why it’s always best to wait before you click on a link. Ask a parent whether it’s legitimate or not. And parents, sometimes it’s good for you to ask your kids or your partner before clicking on a link. If you do click on a link or provide personal information and it turns out to be a scam, contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. If you’ve lost money or are being threatened, then call your local police.
- Turn off the comments. You’ll be in good company. In October 2015, Wired Magazine published an article outlining the end of the comment section and around the same time the CBC announced they were temporary suspending the comment section for articles about Indigenous people. If your kids have a blog or YouTube account, make sure comments turned off. Trolls have no boundaries and no one should be subjected to nasty comments, especially kids. Of course, accounts like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are pretty boring without comments, so teach your kids about PRIVACY settings so that they can control who can see your stuff and make comments (and kids, teach your parents about these settings too). The playground and café can be tough enough, the online world doesn’t need to be as well.
- Keep an open dialogue. All the safety features and privacy settings won’t always protect your children (or you) from seeing things you wish they hadn’t. Having open lines of communication between you and your children is important and a great way of maintaining a healthy relationship regardless of their online activity. Let your kids know it’s OK to talk to you about it, without consequence. We’ve all made poor choices and sometimes those choices have had additional repercussions. Best to let your kids feel like they have a safe place to go to help minimize the negative repercussions.
- Put away your device and go outside and play. Go for a walk. Read a book. Play a game of cards. The online world can be fun but like all good things, in moderation.
- Register for a talk on Internet safety. The New West Police Department and Parent’s Night Out are hosting a Social Media Workshop for parents presented by Jesse Miller of Mediated Reality. Do not miss this great FREE opportunity . If you are not able to attend this workshop, look for others or use the links below to help demystify the online world and make it a happy and safe place for you and your kids to hang out.
There are a lot of really amazing resources available for kids and parents here are just a few:
- YouTube safety for teens
- Internet safety for teens
- Instagram tips for teens
- Privacy and internet safety by age