The new “Talk” you need to have with your kid TODAY. -talking to kids about social media and internet

Happy Birthday Internet. As per today’s First post article , on 1 January, 1983, the computer network officially began its technological revolution when it fully substituted previous networking systems and began using data “packet-switching”, the new method of linking computers which then paved the way for the arrival of the World Wide Web. ( Thirty years down the line , our responsibilities as parents are suddenly growing at an exponential pace as the internet technology scales new heights.

Why? Everything is just a GOOGLE search away. Sitting here in Mumbai, I know exactly what my friends in every part of the globe are doing..Vacationing in Brazil, checking in at the airport or sipping a coffee at the Starbucks outlet in San Jose… a Facebook update tells me all that I never even wanted to know. Even the thoughts in my mind are not mine anymore, an urging prompt on Facebook tells me to update my status or may be just a 2 line Tweet? Done with that?.. let me post some more on My Whatsapp messenger..

Keeping our kids safe online now has become supremely important. But unfortunately many parents are not tech savvy enough to even be aware of what are the dimensions of danger here. Predators of a different breed lurk here ..Child molesters, identity thieves and even cyber bullies lurk in these woods. Here are some simple starters

  1.  Talk to your kids about privacy setting on Facebook or anything they post online. Unless explicitly set to a custom list, your friends’ friend and the rest of the world will be seeing it.
  2. Teach them to ask: Would I show this picture to my family? Would I speak like this with my close friends? Often children who would never utter such words find it perfectly ok to type it away to an inert computer screen. Explain to them that portraying something you are not will attract an audience you would not like to be seen with.
  3. Stop checking in at every place and giving away where you are or going to be at what time. Revealing your location on Facebook  is meaningless and totally unsafe. Always think in terms of  “Will I scream  this loudly standing in front of my house?” ..posting online is just that!
  4. Be your child’s friend : literally and figuratively..Add a child friendly name without a photo and add yourself to your child’s friends list  (the idea is not to embarrass him but to be aware). Be a cool parent.. it means not freaking out and losing control but to slowly and steadily be a true best friend to your child. Like a good cop, bad cop routine, it is very important that the child has at least one parent he can go to without fear of being punished without being even heard out. Emphasise “Families are forever, no matter what”
  5. Tell your child not to respond to anyone they haven’t met in your presence. Tell them not to respond to any messages that are mean or that in any way make you feel uncomfortable. Explicitly tell them it is not their fault, no matter what they were browsing.
  6. Most important, if they decide to meet a friend they met online, they need to inform you and go with a friend to a known public location or ideally just call him home in your presence for snacks! That should automatically weed out those with vested interests.
  7. If you are walking on the road, don’t be compelled to listen to music or chat on your phone or tweet or check your email… just walk…being aware will help you realise if someone is following you and the alertness will help you respond.

Finally, last but not the least… teach them the beauty of being offline, unplugged. This may mean a huge change in our own routines as an adult. With the influx of internet on mobile phones, no one is actually present where they physically are. Whether seated at the dining table, we are constantly replying to emails on their blackberries or reading the latest ezine on the iPods or just chatting away on the mobile phone while walking the child home…PLEASE STOP.

Talk to your kids everyday and at every opportunity about everything. If you are reading the morning paper at the breakfast table, share it with your child according to the child’s age. If you see a news item on a boy who went missing, tell your child what he needs to watch out for . If you see a rape victim ensuing from Facebook friendship, point it out to your child. As you drive, if you see cell phone towers on the side of the bridge, point it out to your child and explain what they are. If you watch a movie together, have a debate about the characters and their decisions. As a dinner routine or  a night walk post dinner every single day, check in to your child’s day.

Once while I was feverishly cooking and packing three lunches in the morning ,my three-year old asked me “Amma, are you too busy now?’’ ..I stopped. I realised those were my words..I had dismissed him away at some time when he was pestering me in the kitchen. And at the age of three.. he had noted it in his mind..that I did not have time for him when I was in the kitchen. I paused and turned off the gas and sat down on my knees. I looked in to his eyes and said  “Amma is never too busy for you”

Let us be there for those that are so precious to us, so that we are not the last to learn what is happening in their lives.

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