It’s been a difficult week here in Cyber Savvy Mom’s house. In the journey to raise Cyber Savvy Kids (CSKs), I’m finding a child’s internet prowess and comfort can also rear its head in a very ugly direction known as “the sneaky web search.” At the tender age of 8, Cyber Savvy Kid #1 (herein referred to as CSK #1) is already Googling inappropriate terms, and it’s scaring the bejeezus out of me.
I know, I know what you’re thinking: “But, Cyber Savvy Mom! You’re the one who is supposed to be the voice of reassurance in these situations. You’re the one who told us all to “Keep Calm and Carry On” in the face of all this internet danger.”
It’s true. I, Cyber Savvy Mom, write about online safety and security for a living. I, Cyber Savvy Mom, interview some of the leading minds in the security industry on a daily basis. I, Cyber Savvy Mom, thinks she can smell an online scam a mile away. But I, Cyber Savvy Mom, have thus far had NO SUCCESS with getting the little 8-year-old sneaky booger living under my own roof to stop looking up words like “sex” and Googling terms like “Sponge Bob looking at boobs.” (Yes, these really are the terms I am finding on his search history.) I am torn between fits of hysterical laughter, confusion and and urge to run into traffic at the thought of it all.
“He’s only 8! This is just going to get worse!” my husband exclaimed last night after we found out he had been at it again. I shook my head silently in agreement.
For now, the devices are banned. But we all know that won’t last. Those of you who don’t allow your kids to use iPods or computers can all smirk sanctimoniously at me and declare that evil, internet-accessing devices are ruining our kids lives and I’d be best served to make the ban permanent. But I don’t buy it. And anytime I do implement a temporary ban on devices, it becomes just as much a punishment to me, as it is to the kids. There are only so many rounds of Hungry, Hungry Hippos a mom can play. There are only so many pages of Harry Potter my voice can stand to read in one day. Let’s face it: I need a break sometimes – and the devices will inevitably be back out soon.
So, short of never letting him use a computer or iPod again, I need to find a long-term strategy for getting my kid to stop Googling words that will inevitably lead him to inappropriate content he is too young to understand.
I’m starting with these strategies:
Open dialogue: Time and again, I’ve heard experts advise that the the most powerful tool a parent has in helping their children stay safe online is a good relationship. Talk to your child about what they might find online if they search certain terms. Don’t get angry. It is natural for kids to be curious. Calmly explain to them and be consistent in your message that many things they find online might be upsetting and confusing to them at their age – and that they need to stay in online places that parents have already pre-approved. Encourage them to let you know if they find something online that makes them uncomfortable.
Device use only in family areas: This is a point I have been lax about lately. I let CSK #1 use his iPod in the morning (he is always the first to get up each day in our house) when I am still snoozing. That can’t be allowed any more. From now on, device and computer use only when mom or dad are in the room and only if we check in on him regularly.
Use the tools that are available to help: There are many tools out there designed to help you control what your child is viewing online. I’ll admit to getting lazy since both of my CSKs got iPods at Christmas. A lot of what I was using on our home computer has been completely over looked on the mobile devices. I need to make a plan now, and start incorporating tools such as mobile security software, as well as directing my kids to search only with the Child Safe Search on Google.
Try and make internet safety fun with light educational games: There are several web sites out there with programs that aim to teach kids of varying ages how to stay safe online. They include Net Smartz Kids by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and The FBI’s online safety web site Safe Online Surfing.
Have your kids been caught searching for questionable content online? If so, how did you respond? Your comments welcome!