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Julia Barnes for Fatherly

How to Talk About Internet Safety With Kids

Internet safety is essential and all parents should have the tech talk. But where to start? Here's your guide to Be Internet Awesome.

This story was produced in partnership with Google.

Good parenting means tough conversations. There’s really no way around it. Whether you are facing a global cataclysm like the Australian wildfires, a personal brush with bullies, or it’s simply time to continue the sex talk, there’s no shortage of big, overwhelming, uncomfortable (and ultimately rewarding) conversations.

Most parents, however, are missing one of the most important conversations. Yes, dear parent, it’s time we had the “tech talk.” There are few things in this world that will shape your kids’ lives quite like the internet. From social media to multiplayer video games to online shopping, the online world offers as many landmines as it does opportunities for kids and parents. Confronted with pressure from well-meaning (and not so well-meaning) friends, the attention economy, and people who mean them actual harm, kids need guidance. That’s what you’re here for.

Parents need to be clear about the boundaries they’re setting while opening a discussion that enlightens their kids and builds trust. And while doing that, parents need to keep up with emerging trends, technologies, and a world that they barely know better than their kids. No one said it was easy.

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Luckily, you won’t have to start from scratch. As part of a push to help families navigate the internet more safely, Google has identified five key areas of Internet Awesomeness from their Be Internet Awesome program. Check out the helpful tips below, play your way to Internet Awesome with Interland, and once your kid absorbs this information you’ll be a better internet citizen and you’ll have more peace of mind when they go online.

Share with Care

There are some things your kids should put online, but there are many other things that they should not. Funny videos and harmless memes? Yes. Anything that might reflect poorly on them? This is what we are all trying to avoid.

The Talking Points:

  • Don’t share anything that’s too personal; there are better ways to talk about sensitive things with a small, trusted group of people.
  • Don’t share anything that might hurt someone else’s feelings.
  • Act as though everything you post will be online forever and seen by everyone you know.

The Awkward Bits: Remember when you shared your kid’s baby pics on Instagram? They definitely do, and they’re probably not thrilled about it. Use this as an opportunity to talk about what’s okay to share and with whom, even if it means asking permission to share any family photos. Remember, whatever you post online may live on forever, so be thoughtful about what you share. Invite a healthy discussion about communicating responsibly online.

Beware the Scams and Scammers

Everyone who logs on is a potential mark for a scammer. Sit down as a family and search for something your kid wants to learn about — bonus points if you cast your tab or screen to a bigger monitor or TV for easy viewing. Then, go through the results, clicking on some of the top ones and those buried deeper, discussing which look safe and which look sketchy and why.

The Talking Points:

  • Keep an eye on your browser’s security alerts. Most browsers display a lock icon to the left of the address bar to indicate that the site is secure. If there’s no lock icon, you may be on a risky site.
  • Always check the address to make sure it’s, say, google.com and not goog1e.co or igoogl.es or something clearly meant to imitate a real site.
  • If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. No one is really going to give you a free smart phone, no matter what that banner ad says.

The Awkward Bits: If you’ve ever been hoodwinked, tell your kids about it. You might cringe, but they’ll understand that everyone can be susceptible and that getting scammed doesn’t make you dumb. Just ask the many intelligent, successful people — you can pick and choose from a small army of celebrities, world leaders, or even the heads at the world’s largest internet companies — who’ve had their private information exposed to the public.

Secure Your Secrets

Tell your kids that the passwords they use are like the locks on the front door: the stronger they are, the better-protected everyone and everything inside will be. Are “123456” and “password” strong passwords? Of course not. They’re both simple and easy to guess and invite others to steal important information from you — or pretend they are you.

The Talking Points:

  • Strong passwords have numbers, symbols, and uppercase and lowercase letters.
  • Don’t repeat passwords on multiple sites; it’s annoying but necessary to keep your accounts safe.
  • Use an encrypted password manager that keeps your passwords safe and easily accessible. Bonus points if it generates complex, randomized passwords of its own.

The Awkward Bits: Talk to your kids about not sharing their passwords to their accounts or social media apps with their friends, or anyone — well, not just anyone. Parents should have access to their kid’s passwords, period. Tell them it’s not because you want to snoop; it’s because if they ever do get in trouble, you’re their guardian.

Be Kind and Positive Online and in the Real World

Going online can feel like stepping into another, separate world, but the reality is that the online world is the real world and we shouldn’t treat the two any differently.

The Talking Points:

  • Treat people as you would want to be treated, even if they’re people you don’t know in the real world.
  • Don’t be afraid to use the buttons on every social media site that lets you report abusive or inappropriate content.
  • Bad idea: Posting while angry or upset. Good idea: Cooling off offline.

The Awkward Bits: Have a conversation about ways that you may spread kindness and positivity online such as by posting uplifting comments. Talk about negative behavior online, what that might look like, and about having a protocol in the event that your kids see or experience negative behavior online.

Check-In and Keep The Talk Going

As your tech talk nears its conclusion, make sure you end on a forward-thinking note. This isn’t a one-time chat, after all, but the beginning of a long-term conversation about being safe online. The point here is not to come with a series of lectures on various aspects of the internet, but to find out what they’re dealing with online now — and offer helpful advice.

The Talking Points:

  • When in doubt, talk it out. If your kid ever comes across anything that makes them feel uncomfortable, upsets them, or they think is inappropriate, it’s best to tell a trusted adult. As a family, define what those unknowns are and establish what should be shared with an adult.
  • Promise them a no-judgment or no-freakout reaction to anything they want to bring up. Deliver on that promise, no matter how worrisome the admission.
  • If you’re not around (i.e. during the school day), teachers, guidance counselors, coaches, and other trusted adults can also help.

The Awkward Bits: Your kid might be embarrassed that they spent $50 on loot boxes or posted something they shouldn’t have. That’s an incentive to keep quiet, which could potentially exacerbate whatever the issue is. You want to avoid that outcome, so make it clear that your job is to help, not to judge.