Have you talked to your kids about staying safe online?

Local social media expert offers tips on teaching children to become good digital citizens

Darren and Beth Laur, West Shore residents and social media experts with Personal Protection Services. (Contributed photo)

Within a few weeks, thousands of kids will be flooding back to schools throughout the district, many with bright, shiny, new smart phones in hand.

With Facebook profiles, Instagram accounts and Snapchat, some parents may find it difficult to keep up with or may not even know about their child’s growing social media presence.

But, as Uncle Bill says in Spiderman, “with great power comes great responsibility,” and having a cell phone is no different.

“Cell phones give our kids all kinds of access to everything and anything in the digital world. It’s the key to everything from hate crimes to bullying to gambling to pornography,” said Darren Laur, a social media expert with the West Shore-based Personal Protection System Inc.

He has made presentations regarding online safety to more than 34,000 middle and high school aged students across Canada and the U.S.

“At the beginning, we need to be able to take our kids by the hand and walk them through the digital world … We need to start parenting on this issue,” he said.

RELATED: West Shore Family Back to School edition

According to Laur, it’s not only the responsibility of schools, but also parents to teach children how to become good digital citizens and responsible online to prevent issues such as cyberbullying.

Here are a few tips to teach your child how to become digitally literate:

1. Before handing a child a new phone parents should ask themselves, do their kids have the social and emotional maturity and impulse control, and do they know how to honour boundaries to allow them to own and operate a phone without parental supervision?

If the answer is no, chances are, your child is not ready for their first cell phone.

“Like it or not, that phone is the digital key to the digital highway. It’s like tossing your kids the keys to a new car without any driver training. Would any of us do that? Not one of us would,” Laur said.

“If you combine that with no social and emotional maturity, it’s a recipe for disaster.”

2. The younger the child, the simpler the phone should be. While many kids have them, smartphones may not always be for grade school kids.

Consider getting a phone that has the ability to call, text or take pictures, such as the Kyocera DuraXE flip phone, said Laur.

As the child matures and shows parents they can be responsible online, then think about upgrading.

3. Create a family collective agreement, which outlines expectations of how the child will use the phone both inside and outside the home.

Then sit down with your child to ensure they fully understand expectations and consequences that could arise should they use the phone inappropriately.

Laur also suggests implementing incremental consequences. “Too many parents try to deal with these issues as if it’s a hammer and take the phone away,” Laur said. “When a child is in trouble, they’re less likely to go to their parents, because the parent is going to take away that thing that means so much to them.”

4. Ask for the school’s code of conduct regarding technology and make sure to explain it to your child before school starts and go over it with them, so they understand what is expected in a school setting. Most schools will have their code of conduct on their website.

5. Ensure your child knows how to use the device – don’t assume they already know how to use it. Laur said to read the instructions and learn how to use the phone together. It should be a learning experience for both you and your child.

6. Turn on privacy settings and turn off specific location settings.

7. Don’t call or text your child while they’re in class. Cell phones can often be a disruption and distraction in class to your child, teacher and students. If there is an emergency consider calling the school.

8. Be a good tech role model. Research shows children often mimic parents’ behaviour. That means, if you’re texting and having a conversation with your child or texting and driving, your kids are more likely to pick up similar habits.

“It’s important that we be that good role model and more importantly, that we participate in and communicate with our kids in the digital world, so that we enjoy the ride together with our kids,” Laur said.

Find all of the stories that were in the fall West Shore Family publication online here.

kendra.wong@goldstreamgazette.com

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