This year, planning for school means planning to keep kids safe online.

Last week, I had to decide how my children were going to return to school year.  I don’t know if I made the right decision. It was so difficult and it seems every parent I have talked with has struggled to know the right decision and are instead making the best decision for their family.  And still, I am pretty sure every parent who made a decision could very easily be convinced that they made the wrong decision.

What I do know is that since making the decision, several districts have decided that students won’t come back in person at the start of the year.  That means most parents will again be faced with online school—either for a few weeks, or the whole year. Here are a few things that have been on my mind since then:

      • I have no idea what it is going to look like.
      • At least they will be learning something other than Tik-Tok dances online.
      • Will they teach kindergarten like Tik-Tok taught Savage, because my kindergartner has that down.
      • Please don’t teach high school like Tik-Tok taught my teenager Savage. That was 8 hours straight, on repeat.
      • At least Beyonce and I both have to jump to put on jeans.
      • Wait – does this mean the kids will be online even more? This last thought is the one that has me most worried.

I already question how safe my kids are online. In fact, they learned all their Tik-Toks through YouTube since I don’t allow social media, a practice which is getting more difficult every day.  Now they will be online even longer every day and many will be online for the whole year.  We know that the more kids are online, the more vulnerable they are to cyber-bullying, inappropriate content and online predators and exploitation.

I remember the first time I found out, purely by accident, that one of my children had been exposed to inappropriate content. After a private freak out session with my partner and a couple of trusted friends, I took a friend’s advice.  By not blaming, but rather walking through what they see, and talking about how to avoid it in the future, parents can answer questions and support their children in being savvy with the technology that will be a part of the rest of their lives.

The good news is, there is no shortage of training and materials on how to keep your kids safe online. There are programs you can pay for, accounts you can create and videos you can watch.  The best part is, the research is clear.  Talking to our children about threats online, just like talking to them about drugs, just may be our best defense.

1. Talk With Your Kids About the Risks of Increased Time Online 

Guide their online behaviors by teaching them to identify and avoid red flags, and be explicit with them. Make sure your child knows that it’s safe for them to talk to you if something makes them uncomfortable. You can find a great guide HERE or see a full-sized version of our “How to Talk with Your Kids about Online Safety” guide at the bottom of this post or HERE.

2. Create an Online Safety Plan or Agreement With Your Child

Together, set clear guidelines like when and where they can be online. Teach them to spot red flags and encourage open communication. Have a plan in place in case your child is impacted by one of the threats. Practice what your responses are so you can focus on helping your child deal with their feelings.

 

3. Every Device Has a Way to Set Up Parental Controls

I have even had my kids help me set them up so that it felt less about me controlling them and more about all of us being safe.  It worked great because they are way more tech savvy than I am anyway!

Now, I may not be able to dance Savage like my teenager or my kindergartner, but at least I can take these simple actions to protect them while they learn more dances and avoid their schoolwork.

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