What your kids can do to stay safer online
Well, I did it. I had “the talk” I wrote about in a previous column. Wait, not THE TALK. (You know, the baby one.) Not quite yet. But this talk was just as serious and I think it will actually make that talk much easier.
My wife found some inappropriate searches on the laptop history that one of our boys made. Which I take partial responsibility for because we should have had better filters. So we grounded him from the computer until we could come up with an action plan. I totally believe it started out from the “suggested list” that pops up on YouTube – not something he sought out. But our mistake was letting him watch Minecraft videos on Youtube in the first place.
So we fixed that glitch. But before we let him get back on the computer, I wanted to better prepare him for when future online incidents occur. I needed a better game plan, so I called my friend Joe who is the Director of Family Life for the Diocese of Owensboro and has an office full of great resources.
Joe gave me a book called “Good Pictures, Bad Pictures” that is written on a 7-9-year-old-level to help explain how “bad pictures” can be harmful to kids and even lead to addictions down the road. The premise of the book is that learning to recognize bad pictures and responding to them appropriately can train our brain to be proactive against their effects and keep us from becoming desensitized to them (which can lead down a slippery slope toward addiction).
The book describes five protective steps kids – or anybody for that matter – can take when faced with images that make them uncomfortable. It’s called the CAN DO method.
C Close my eyes. Then close the computer. Or click out of the pop up ad, video, or photo as soon as possible.
A Always tell a trusted adult. Open honesty is the goal. Definitely not secrecy.
N Name it when I see it. Calling it what it is helps our mind recognize it as something harmful. In our case, we decided to use the code word “bad picture,” especially in public situations.
D Distract myself. Think of something else and don’t dwell on what you just saw.
O Order my thinking brain to be the boss. The book explains it in terms of our “thinking brain” (conscience, making healthy decisions) and “feeling brain” (pleasure center, decisions without considering consequences).
Reading the book together made the talk less awkward. Especially since we already read together most nights anyway. I found the reading-a-story-together approach very helpful. I was able to stop reading and talk further on some points or add some of my own insight. It also gave him a chance to ask questions or make comments too.
My wife had the idea to make a small flash card with the CAN DO steps and taped it to the laptop so it’s in plain view at all times for anybody who uses it.
Since we’ve read the book, examples from the story have come back up several times in casual conversation. Some of the lessons from the book apply to other situations where it’s wise to act from your “thinking brain” instead of your “feeling brain.” Things like do I need to eat that second bowl of ice cream? Or, do I just want it? Should I stop to look for cars before chasing a ball across the street? Or run faster because my brain is telling me that I might be able to catch it and impress my friends?
Anyway, it’s been good for our whole family because it forced conversations that needed to happen but it also gave us comfortable language to use.
It’s crazy to think how the world we’re raising our kids in is so different from the world we grew up in. Society in general has changed so much. But the deeper I get into this parenting thing the more I come face-to-face with this realization: it’s much easier to turn a blind eye (or ear) as a parent and just shrug our shoulders and move on than it is to face an issue head-on and deal with it. Being a parent is easy. But being a good parent is much harder. By “good” I mean engaged, aware, and involved.
And the thing is that no matter how we were raised we still have to decide how to engage our kids the best we know how in our own context. Yes, our parents modeled certain situations with us when were were growing up, but we’re facing things that weren’t around 20-25 years ago.
Sometimes I feel like I’m teaching myself as much as I’m teaching my kids. Sometimes I wonder who is raising who. But at the end of the day, I want my boys to know that we are checking in on them and are doing our best to keep them safe. The struggle is to find the balance between things like checking their search history and allowing them other ways to gain a sense of independence. But in the online world, we can never be too careful as parents because the social media/app/technology realm is advancing much faster with our preteens than we parents can keep up with. We hand our kids the world at their fingertips and I fear far too many of us are not even aware of the dangers that are approaching younger and younger eyeballs.
Maybe I’m dwelling too much on this, but this whole CAN DO approach helps level the playing field in my mind. There are things my boys CAN DO to keep themselves safe. And there are definitely things their mom and I CAN DO to model for them how it looks in the real world as a grown up. And that conversation – both spoken and unspoken by actions – helps us all.
They’re watching. They’re listening. And they are learning.
And so am I.