By Ben Halpert
As grandparents, you join your adult children by doing everything in your power to keep their children safe from harm when entrusted to your care. When you bring your grandchildren to a public playground, what do you tell them before they run off? The two statements that usually top the list are: “Make sure I can see you at all times,” followed by, “Don’t talk to strangers.” Do you remember the feeling you had in your chest the first time you lost sight of a child at a public playground for just a few seconds? I know what I felt when I couldn’t spot my own child. My heart pounding so hard that it felt like it was about to jump out of my chest! One of our worst nightmares is having our child or grandchild kidnapped, never to be seen again. So we make sure we teach them never to talk to strangers or walk alone on the sidewalk or go to a new (or any!) location by themselves. But in today’s rapidly changing, technology-filled environment, we are not providing this same guidance about strangers to our children and grandchildren as they play in virtual playgrounds. The moment we hand them a digital device, we invite them to play in virtual playgrounds that are accessible via every smart phone, tablet, computer and gaming platform. These devices literally invite them to talk to strangers, send pictures to strangers, send videos to strangers, and have live video chats with strangers, all from the comfort of their bedroom or any other part of your home. Adults today are socializing the fun and excitement that comes with using the latest technology of the day without teaching concepts related to cyber ethics. The topics of privacy, security, and communicating with strangers in an online context must be addressed with children as soon as we hand them an Internet connected device. Every now and then I run into people who tell me that their child or grandchild is too young to be concerned with such issues. Or that the child would never meet a stranger they met online in the real world. Or that the child only plays a simple game or app and communicates with other players. So they have nothing to worry about. Please don’t be that person! Recognize that you or your own child brought a stranger (many strangers actually!) into your grandchild’s bedroom and do something about it. So how do we communicate the concepts of privacy, security, and strangers to toddlers and young children?
- First, create a place in the home where technology goes to bed at night. Just as people need a good night’s rest to recharge from the day’s events, so too do the devices that have been used all day long. We go to sleep in our bedrooms, and technology should go to sleep in a charging area somewhere in the home, perhaps an area in the kitchen.
- Second, devices should never be used at night in a child’s bedroom. The first item we discussed helps mitigate this issue, but make sure you stick to it! Technology use in the evening when a child is supposed to be sleeping can cause all sorts of problems, including not getting enough rest, sexting, watching pornographic (and other inappropriate) videos, and video chatting with strangers.
- Third, have the child use technology around you or another trusted adult. Even if you (and your grandchild’s parents) do everything in your power to educate and protect your grandchildren, something still may happen. It is better that you (or another trusted adult) are there to explain what the child just saw, heard, or experienced than if he or she was off in a secluded area of the home.
- Fourth, start discussing the concepts related to cyber security, privacy, and strangers when the child is three years old. Do you know what happens if you start discussing cyber ethics concepts with really young children and continue to reinforce those concepts? The concepts become ingrained in their minds. How awesome is that?! We can increase the chances of success for them as they grow up in a world filled with technology.
Ben Halpert is the president and founder of Savvy Cyber Kids, a nonprofit organization, and author of the three-book series Savvy Cyber Kids at Home, available on Amazon ; see http://www.savvycyberkids.org for more info.