The Internet is a wild and wonderful place. My boys and I have used it to go to the moon, travel down the Amazon and traipse across Antarctica… and that’s just through my computer. But, bullies and nasty behavior also lives on the Internet, as we have all seen, and maybe even directly experienced ourselves.
While we shouldn’t be saying anything to someone online that we wouldn’t say to their face (and thus, risk getting slapped), that’s just not the case. We can mock, tease, pass judgement and throw nasty accusations at anyone and everyone, seemingly without consequences.
This is the world our kids are being raised in.
Using the Internet as a Source of Knowledge
My boys have only had a positive experience with the Internet so far. This is a place that they see their mom booking flights to far off places, we our itineraries online and find fabulous restaurants to eat in.
Just like my credit card seems to be an endless source of cash to my youngest, so too is the Internet an endless bank of knowledge to my boys.
Amazon Alexa regularly tells my kids jokes, informs them of the weather each morning so they know how to dress, and plays their favorite songs. What’s not to love about the web, right?
Being Aware of the Dangers of the Internet
For the most part, my children have been sheltered from the harmful aspects that can come from the Internet. As my oldest hits the tween years, he is coming into contact with the kids who see this medium as a source of bullying, harassment and access to content that I don’t really want him to be exposed to quite yet (or ever).
I am wise enough to know that I can’t control everything for the rest of his life though. It’s up to me to prepare him for what comes next in his relationship with the online world.
As more and more video games go online, giving adults and kids access to each other in ways many parents don’t realize, and kids get their own phones with social media on them, it is more important than ever to teach our kids Internet safety. We also need to remind them how fun the Internet truly can be.
It doesn’t have to be scary, as long as they know how to stay safe and treat it with the respect it deserves.
Teaching A Kid How to Be Internet Awesome
This past summer, my son at the ripe old age of nine, convinced me to let him get an Instagram account. All of his friends who travel have their own accounts. I cringed at the thought, but also realized this was a great opportunity to teach him how to use social media responsibly and with respect.
I needed him to know that this is not where he could share or look at naughty photos or post comments that demean people. This is a place to lift up his friends and post amazing, well-curated images that he could be proud of ten years from now. Most importantly, images and comments he wouldn’t be afraid of his grandmother seeing.
Introducing My Son to Social Media
It is my job to walk him through this world, and together, we are having fun creating this private account that I created for him, that he can only access on my phone (he doesn’t have a phone and doesn’t even know the password to the account yet).
When I tell you that this kid’s account is locked down tighter than Fort Knox, I’m not kidding. I approve everyone he can follow and anyone who wants to follow him.
My son isn’t even allowed to follow my 25-year-old cousin. I know what a knuckle-head my cousin is and what a foul mouth he can have when he doesn’t realize his little cousins are already online checking out what he is doing.
Leading by a Better Example
Although I’m starting to wade into the waters with my boys, it’s still not enough. Early education is crucial for our kids if we are going to help them make a difference.
We adults have been cutting each other down on social media for years. No wonder we see teens and tweens doing the same. They are living out the examples we have set for them.
I’m gobbling up all of the resources I can now, so I can answer those tough questions and handle those tricky situations when then arise. Google is stepping in with their own program to help parents and teachers out too.
Resources to Help Parents and Teachers
In case you didn’t know, Google is the largest search engine in the world. Their programmers see a lot pass across their monitors. Not all of it is pretty. As anyone in tech will tell you, they know first-hand what their kids can and will see at some point.
And, as we all know, bullying is happening at home, in our schools, and now online. Let’s break down those numbers on bullying.
Did you know:
- 28% of students have experienced bullying personally.
- 71% of students have witnessed bullying directly.
- Only 20% – 30% of students notify adults about bullying.
- Over 50% of parents are concerned about their child being bullied.
*according to Google research
As a parent, none of these numbers make me happy. My own son has already been subjected to bullying. I have witnessed bullying towards other kids and was a victim of bullying as a child myself.
Google knows this is an ongoing problem; one they are trying to help prevent. This is why they developed the #BeInternetAwesome initiative.
What is Be Internet Awesome all about?
Be Internet Awesome is Google’s free multifaceted program designed to teach kids the fundamentals of digital citizenship and safety so they can explore the online world with confidence.
Phew! That’s a mouthful, but essentially, it’s a curriculum that was built for teachers, and is now rolling out to parents to be able to use at home too.
The program is available in both English and Spanish and surrounds five pillars, and if your are at my kids’ public school, you are already familiar with color-coded character pillars.
Google’s five areas of Internet awesomeness that make up their curriculum:
- SMART : Where we learn to share with care
- ALERT : Where we learn not to fall for fake
- STRONG : Where we learn how to secure Our digital stuff
- KIND : Where we learn that itʼs cool to be kind
- BRAVE : Where we learn that, when in doubt, we talk it out
Bullying Happens No Matter Where You Travel
One thing I always say to my boys and their friends as I drop them off at school each morning is “have a great day, be kind to your friends and say hi to someone you don’t know.” In my experience, it’s always the kids that are alone that are singled out for bullying first.
I’ve seen kids get bullied in our neighborhood, and I never tolerate it.
Yes, I am that crazy mom yelling at kids down the street to knock it off. It may embarrass my boys. I have no idea.
I’m also that mom that every kid knows they can come up to when they can’t find their mom or dad after school, or if they fall and scrape their knee and need a hug. I’m a no nonsense mama bear, but I will fight for every kid at our school to make sure they are safe and taken care of.
SET AN EXAMPLE ON SOCIAL MEDIA FOR YOUR KIDS
How does this no-nonsense mama bear translate to the online space? I share my online presence with my kids. There is nothing that I say or do online that I would be ashamed to show my kids, or even worse, my mother (yes, I’m still a little afraid of my mother and value what she thinks of me. There is nothing wrong with that!)
My boys are always looking over my shoulder, seeing what photos I post of myself, of them and of our family. What words am I using to describe our adventures, what comments am I leaving on friends’ photos.
They also hear those snickered remarks I make out loud about what so and so is doing. That’s when I have to check myself.
That pettiness starts to creep out. You know, the little voice in all of us that compares us to our peers. That green monster of envy or jealousy comes creeping up and we have to break that other person down. It’s a behavior in myself (and really all humans) I don’t want my boys to ever model.
BE INTERNET AWESOME AT HOME
As my boys’ social lives start to blend in person with a digital reality, we are digging into the games that Google has developed. There are two big resources to tackle bullying on the web at home, which can also translate into how we deal with bullies in person.
Here’s your to-do list with your kids:
- Play Interland with your kids and put your kindness skills to the test at g.co/KindKingdom
- Learn more about how to Be Internet Awesome at g.co/BeInternetAwesome
- Pass it on! Tell your kids’ teachers about the online curriculum so they can introduce these activities in the classroom.
I’ve already passed on both resources to our PTA president and both of my boys’ teachers. One simple email, and I gave useful, FREE tools to my community.
We are already talking about a PTA meeting that will address online bullying and ways we as parents and teachers can address our concerns, especially as our elementary school children are having access to social media much sooner than we think.
Gather the gals for brunch
Next on your to-do list, grab a bunch of friends and head out to your favorite brunch spot.
Start an open dialog with other moms and dads. Tell them about the Google program, and how lost you too are feeling as your kids move from reading board books to wanting their own phone and Instagram account. It’s a terrifying time for us all, and most parents have no idea how to navigate those waters.
Remember- you are not alone!
Recently, I hosted a brunch for Google that invited 12 moms in my community to discuss bullying on the web. One big question, and fear, that pop up – “when will my child feel the pressure to be on social media?” The moms of teens at the table all replied, “10 or 11 years old.”
I have a 9-year-old son who already wants an Instagram account. He doesn’t know SnapChat exists yet. I was really hoping it would die by the time he got to that age, but it looks like it may be in his future. I could ban him from it, or face the facts that he will have access to it in some way whether I like it or not.
We are All in This Together
As his mother, and a tech savvy gal, it is my job to train him up on social media etiquette. Am I terrified? Of course! Who wouldn’t be? But I am excited too.
The Internet and social media can be an awesome place, filled with magic, adventure and discovery. You just have to respect those you interact with in the same way you would if they were sitting next to you. And let’s be honest, in today’s world, they actually could be sitting next to you and you’d have no idea.
It’s time to get the whole family to Be Internet Awesome.
This post is part of a paid partnership with Google as part of the Forward Influence Network. As always, my opinions are my own. When they aren’t you will be the first to know. I take bullying very seriously and I’m proud to be part of this project and continue to spread the word in my community. *Stock images via Unsplash.