Save yourself some e-drama. In this Q&A, Yalda T. Tuhls, PhD, author of Media Moms & Digital Dads: A Fact Not Fear Approach to Parenting in the Digital Age offers practical advice on how to keep your children safe online.
Should you comment on your daughter’s Facebook post? How worried should you be about the video game your son plays at his friend’s house? Child psychologist and researcher Yalda T. Tuhls has the answers to these questions and more.
Q. Most parents know they should have their kids' social media passwords and watch how they're presenting themselves online, but what else should parents do to keep on top of their kids' Internet activities?
Actually, you would be surprised by how many parents don't have their children’s social media passwords or even follow their children once they are on social media. This should non-negotiable. When your child joins a social media site, they should have to accept you as a follower. And if you start early, you can help them learn safe online practices. Do not, however, comment publicly on the site and their postings. They will be embarrassed. If you see something you don't like, talk to them offline about it.
Q. And inevitably you're going to see something that you don't like, right? Are there any situations you might give your kid a pass on, or should you bring up every single issue?
Yes, you’ll absolutely need to give your kid some passes. If you bring up everything, they will start tuning you out. Try to bring up positive posts. Say, "I really liked your framing on that shot of the sunset," for example. Help them focus on the fun and creative side of social media, and unless something is really egregious (say, posting that your family is on vacation for a week), it's better to let many things slide.
Q. Our survey showed that a fair number of kids post things online they'd be embarrassed for their parents to see. Some of these were very intimate details about their sexuality or struggles with depression. What should parents take away from that?
That kids need safe places to talk about these issues. It's important for your child to have someone they feel comfortable sharing this kind of information with, and unfortunately it's usually not us. Is there an older teenager you trust, a cousin or aunt or uncle? Help facilitate that relationship for your child so they don't always have to turn to peers. And if you are watching what they post, you can step in if it feels really serious.
Q. How concerned should parents be about their kid's ability to multitask—for example, watch TV while tweeting about the show they're watching and cleaning their room?
If their grades are slipping, then be concerned. If not, then they can probably handle it.
Q. Video games got a bad reputation years ago but haven't come under much fire lately, despite the fact that they can have a high sex and violence content. Not to mention that your kid can play with strangers online. What should parents be wary of when it comes to online gaming?
We should still be worried about high sex and violence content—and the incredible amount of advertising embedded in gameplay. It's important to know your child and check the ratings for games (I use Common Sense Media). Some children might be disturbed, and if you start seeing them exhibit strange patterns offline, be extra careful with their online usage. Online gaming, by and large, is fine. Talk to your child about the signs of whether someone may not be who they say they are: Do they seem to be using bigger words than someone their age would, or ask questions that make your child feel uncomfortable? If so, teach them to block the person or come to an adult.
Q. If there's one thing you'd want parents to do for themselves and their kids after reading this article, what would it be?
Help guide your child the same way you do in the "real" world. Our children are navigating two adolescences—one online and one offline. Get involved, get educated and be proactive.