Many parents worry about their kids online: Are they spending too much time on the Internet? Are they seeing inappropriate content? Are they going to be hurt or cyberbullied by their peers? Are they wasting time that would be better spent face-to-face with friends or playing outside? Are they sharing too much information about themselves?
It’s tempting to just unplug the router and trade the iPad in for a basketball – as a mom of three tweens/teens, I certainly understand that impulse. But in doing so, you are missing golden opportunities to help your kids navigate the online world in safe, productive ways. After all, they will one day be expected to handle this kind of communication for their working and adult lives.
Join myself and Tanya Avrith, M.A. Ed Tech, on Wednesday, November 6th at 7 p.m. for a live-streaming webcast called “Embrace Your Child’s Digital Life.” This practical, one-hour interactive presentation is open to all parents everywhere, and can be accessed at www.lbpsb.qc.ca. No RSVP necessary.
Your seven-year-old’s best friend is moving away. She’s really upset about it and wants to keep in touch. Can she have an email account? Pretty please? She promises to use it just to keep in touch with her friend. And maybe her grandparents. And her cousins in Florida. What about her camp friends, and the kid she met on the beach during winter break?
You know it’s the tip of the iceberg. Email is a powerful and immediate way to stay connected, but it also opens up a whole host of questions about safety online, from protecting one’s privacy to enabling the kind of digital communication that can easily be abused, misused or misunderstood. And it also invites questions about all kinds of other activities online, from Instagram to Tumblr and Facebook.
So what age is the right age for a first email account?
It’s a variation of the same question I often hear from parents at my workshops – what age is the right one for surfing the Internet, or getting a cellphone, or starting a blog, or online gaming?
My answer is always the same: there is no magic age when every kid is ready. You need to balance your family values, your child’s level of maturity and responsibility and your comfort level in supervising their activities.
However, I do think that introducing school-aged children to email at home — at a point where you feel comfortable — offers a golden opportunity to establish responsible use of online tools. Here are just some of the topics that you can discuss with your kids about using email:
manners, civility and “netiquette” online,
how typed-out words on a screen may not convey nuance, sarcasm and irony the way spoken words do,
trusting superficial identification – people can use email to pretend to be someone else,
how digital conversations can be forwarded, copied or taken out of context without permission – always assume more than one pair of eyes may read what you write,
digital permanence – you can never be sure anything you’ve written or posted is completely deleted.
If you do decide to allow your child to open an email account, consider implementing the following guidelines:
parents should know their usernames and passwords, but ask that they don’t share that information with anyone else,
request that they ask permission from parents before opening any new account,
anything written out in a digital format is not to be considered private and off-limits to parents (if they want privacy, it should be written out longhand on paper),
review emails with your child from time to time (not behind their backs, unless you think they might legitimately be in danger), not to read what their friends write, but so they doesn’t get fooled by spam, viruses and Nigerian princes,
limit the places they use their personal email address, so they don’t become overwhelmed by sales pitches from companies eager to market to children,
that they be good “e-friends,” respecting what others write,
The goal is support and teach your children how to become good digital citizens — after all, this is the world they will inherit. They need to learn these healthy online habits somewhere, and it’s ideal if they are reinforced in the home. So go ahead and let your second-grader open her (or his) very own email account, but make sure s/he has the tools, resources and supervision to handle it responsibly.
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"What a crucial conversation, and what a talented speaker! Dr. Alissa Sklar’s presentation to Akiva School’s parent body was full of clear, relevant, down-to-earth facts presented in a highly engaging manner. No jargon, no scare tactics – just solid information and excellent advice. A no-risk program for parents." -Frances (Cooki) Levy, Head of The Akiva School ("The Power of Positive Parenting: Preventing Risky Behaviors for All Ages")
"Alissa is the consummate professional and speaks with great authority. We hope she will be one of our feature speakers at many future workshops." Kelly Wilton, editor and co-publisher of Montreal Families Magazine
RiskWithinReason is intended as a support and information resource. If you need counselling for your child, consider contacting a trained child psychologist. Your family doctor or CLSC can recommend one, or you can also visit Collage Therapies at http://www.collagetherapies.ca/en