I am thrilled to interview one of my favorite rockstar parenting experts, Dr. Michele Borba, whom I met online — is that irony given that I am talking to her today about internet safety. I’ve turned to her before for advice and support on the importance of play and how to pay for college.
Dr. Michelle Borba
What I love about Dr. Michele Borba is how practical and do-able her advice is. It’s clear that she is a mom who understands parenting from someone in the trenches.
Internet safety is a scary thing with kids (mine) consumed in communicating in ways I never did as a kid … email, Instagram, Facebook, SnapChat, Twitter and probably more that I don’t even know about. Bullying, though, is something I do have personal experience with, both as a child and as an adult. The combination — cyberbullying — can lethal. Dr. Michelle Borba has practical, sane and pragmatic advice for parents on what to do to keep your children safe.
1) What age do you recommend social media platforms (email account, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter) for kids?
Here are my suggestions for allowing your children to use any social media platform (as well as video games, movies, and iBooks, etc.):
- First, check the age guidelines recommended by the platform (e.g. for Facebook users must be aged 13 or over due to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act [federal law on COPPA]) and use them. Generally a panel of experts is used to review and recommend age specifications and in almost every case the age recommended by experts is higher than the age parents might allow.
- Beware of the message you send your children. If you decide to allow your child(ren) to use social media platforms from an earlier age, doing so sends them the message that they are “above the rules and above the law.” Is that the message you want your children to learn?
- Start on safer sites as a practice run. Yoursphere, Fanlala or Kuddle are child, tween and teen-friendly websites or apps where they can get the “feel” of the platform – and you can gauge their readiness. Most children use email accounts first (many schools ask students to have an account so their teachers can connect with them). And that’s a great way to also guide your child online, by starting with email first.
- Regardless of the age restrictions, review the platform yourself to determine if it’s appropriate for your child. Use your instincts and base your own age decision on each child’s past experience, maturity/trust/responsibility levels, and your family rules. After all, each child is different. Just as your first child may be ready for his or her driver’s license at 16 – your second child may need another year (or two) before you can trust his or her maturity and responsibility to be behind the wheel. The same goes for social media and smartphone use.
- Be where your kids are online: get an account for yourself and have the password for your child’s accounts. Being familiar with the platform and how it works is essential to understanding what your child is doing online.
2) Monitoring kids’ social media interactions seems like micromanaging to me. Where’s the fine line between monitoring my kids’ social interactions and teaching them when to come to me when they feel uncomfortable?
How much a parent supervises or intervenes in their child’s online presence depends on a few factors, which should be thought of in the same way as your offline parenting presence:
- Age and personality: The younger or more vulnerable, the more parental monitoring is needed.
- Social scene and friends: Who teen hang out with, and if potential for cyber-bullying could be part of that social scene.
- Trustworthiness and responsibility: Based on consistent past performance, monitor impulsive or irresponsible teens closer.
- Parental instinct or evidence of trouble: If you have a strong suspicion, evidence or just a gut instinct that your child’s safety or well-being is at stake, supervise more vigilantly.
While there’s no guarantee, research finds that “hands-on parenting” (monitoring behavior, knowing your child’s friends, setting clear rules and not being afraid to say no) are the best way to lower risky behaviors and keep teens safe both online and off.
Using a product, like WebSafety, which is an app you can download onto your child’s phone, allows parents to effectively monitor their child’s online behavior, texting, and Facebook activity without “micromanaging” them.
No parent can be there 24 hours a day, or know every tiny detail of what their child does. That’s impossible. So WebSafety is a great tool because it sends you notifications of what your child is doing on their smartphone, as they happen, so that you can see if they are cursing, being bullied or bullying, viewing inappropriate content or uploading inappropriate content (like photos) to their social media sites. WebSafety even protects against sexing, sending you alerts when certain words are sent or received in text messages on your child’s phone.
WebSafety is helpful because it provides parents with the information they need to start an open dialogue with their child about certain scenarios, they may otherwise not know about, and before a situation escalates.
There’s a difference between snooping and monitoring. Snooping is done without your child’s knowledge. So it’s always better to monitor-supervise without snooping and tell your child upfront that you will monitor their phone – just don’t tell them when and how often. Explain that your behavior is based on concern for safety and guidance and not to be meddlesome and over controlling. By doing so, you keep your child’s trust, they recognize that the Internet is a privilege that can be revoked, and they are less likely to engage in risky behaviors.
3) Our school system does extensive anti-bullying and social media safety training. I feel like this is enough. Is it?
No. You want to also set your own family rules and values – whatever they may be – as you help your child navigate the online scene.
Children say they are more likely to come to their parent with an issue that concerns them online IF their parents have been talking to them about, and guiding, their online presence.
4) What role does empowerment play in antibullying. I have always insisted that my kids (who are very small for their age) learn martial arts for self-defense and self-empowerment. The law of the playground (versus school rules) is no one messes with the kid that can fight back.
Personal empowerment is crucial for helping our children develop, not only into confidence, authentic self-esteem and resilience, but it also helps to lower temptations, peer pressure and bullying. Teaching children how to assert themselves will be a crucial tool for them to use so they can handle the social jungle in the schoolyard as well as in the workplace.
I’d alter your law of the playground, dating scene, workplace or even life slightly to be “people ‘mess less’ with children who can hold their own and know what they stand for.” Those ‘upstander’ skills can be developed – especially through practice, modeling and reinforcement, and children are going to need those skills to survive and thrive in life.
5) I know this sounds politically incorrect but I taught my kids to push back/hit back just a little harder than what they receive since they were in preschool (and we had our first bullying incidents). That philosophy is opposite to what many believe but it worked for us.
What may have worked favorably for your children in “bully proofing” is that you taught them to stand up for their rights (Yay, Mom!). Using strong body language, a firm voice, an unwavering attitude and assertive confidence are key to helping children be less likely to be bullied – and those skills are ones we must help more children acquire.
Bullies generally look for kids who appear weaker or more vulnerable. Those using “wimpy” body language or voice tone send off warning flags to bullies that signal they’re an “easier target.” Bullies are generally astute in picking up social cues from peers, which helps them zero in on and gain power over some others.
That said, we also have to be careful in giving that “push back” advice to all children. Bullying is defined as “repeated intentional cruelty or aggression in which there is a power imbalance or unequal footing.” The victim cannot always hold their own against their tormentor due to smaller physical size, strength, social power or confidence. So telling most targeted children to “push back” sets them up for possible physical injury because they usually cannot hold their own (and unfortunately I see too many of them being the child who gets expelled or suspended due to ‘zero bullying tolerance’ policies.)
The founder of WebSafety (Rowland Day) created the app — which has been in the making for the past five years! — because two of his friends’ children committed suicide due to cyberbullying. He wanted to find a way to help parents (like his friends) prevent these terrible situations from taking place, working tirelessly to create the solution. WebSafety provides a way for parents to effectively monitor their child’s texting, social media activity and any inappropriate Internet use. Additional details about the product are below.
It’s been talked about before, but the problems that lurk online are escalating and are still extremely difficult to protect children against:
• Almost half (43%) of children admitted to being bullied online*
• A further 43% said that they had exchanged messages with strangers*
• 73% of teens have shared personal information or potentially inappropriate content**
• And 71% of children admit they hide online activity from their parents*
WebSafety is available on Android. An iOs version is planned for early 2015.
How It Works:
· Download the app onto a child’s Internet-enabled device(s) as well as the parent’s own device(s)
· Parents can set keywords and alerts based on preferences and needs. For example, profanities may not be a big deal to some parents but other keywords like “drugs” or “pregnant” are.
· Parents receive real-time alerts based on preferences (e.g., a child uses those keywords, uploads images to social media sites, visits an inappropriate website, uses phone past a certain time at night).
· Parents can visit an online dashboard to view activity on the child’s device as little or as often as necessary.
· Then, as needed, start a conversation when issues arise.
Special Pricing for WebSafety App!
50% off for a 6-month or year-long subscription for a limited time.