By Dr. Gail Dines

Gail DinesWith workplaces shuttered and schools closed for an indeterminate period, many of us are sheltering at home. It’s no surprise that screens will become a central pastime. Young people, especially, will miss their friends, may feel anxious, and will be seeking entertainment and distraction. Young people are especially vulnerable to porn, which is available for free 24/7 vi
a smartphones and on teen platforms like Snapchat and Instagram. We want to make sure you have the tools and tips for keeping your kids safe.

One of the simplest ways to take stock of which conversations we need to have with our kids about online safety is to ask when, where, what, why, and how? Culture Reframed recommends these 5 ways to keep your kids safe on social media:

WHEN? Check in with your child regarding time limits. With kids faced with spending weeks at home, how long is reasonable to spend online? What agreements do you have in place to ensure that the whole day isn’t wasted, and for prioritizing more productive or creative activities?

WHERE? Do you know where your kids are going online? Have you discussed safe and unsafe spaces to hang out online? If all their friends are on TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, or gaming platforms, are they (and you!) aware of the safety issues of these platforms? Online platforms can be an easy pathway to access porn, or for porn themes to be normalized. Begin or revisit conversations that help kids reflect on their social media use. We offer conversation scripts for download in our Programs for Parents.

WHAT? Have you brainstormed with your kids what to do if they see or are involved in something online that’s unsafe, unhelpful, or worse still, illegal? With social isolation the focus, it might be tempting for teens to “get sexy” online or fall prey to predatory behaviors. This is an important time to revisit conversations about the illegal and risky elements of sexting. Sexting & the Online Digital Footprint (see the Program for Parents of Teens/Module 7) provides helpful guidance for these conversations.

WHY? Are your kids clear about why pornography is so problematic for their sexual, emotional, mental, social, and relational health and development? The more knowledge you have, the more clearly you will be able to articulate to your young person why pornography is harmful and help them build skills for making safe decisions. Every element of Culture Reframed’s Programs for Parents is designed to build confidence in parents and caregivers to brave these essential conversations.

HOW? With guidelines established, how will you check in with your child’s online world? Ask them to take you on a tour of some of their day’s interactions; maintain open communication; and make sure they know that you’re there for them, even when they make a mistake or find themselves in a less than ideal situation.

We recommend that you use the Social Media & Mobile Phone Contract to set or reestablish these safety boundaries—developing an open and honest relationship with your child about their online activities is crucial. Prioritizing reasonable boundaries will mean they are more likely to safely enjoy their time online. They may not always get it right (in fact, we anticipate that they won’t!), so make a commitment, together with your child, to flexibility and learning together. We also highly recommend installing apps and filters as a protective measure (check out Common Sense Media’s helpful tips). No matter how you do it, the highest priority is to help your kids think and respond critically to the pornified culture that surrounds them.

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