This post is sponsored by TextNow
My day often starts with my two sleepy teens making their way to the breakfast table with phones in hand. They’ll catch up on TikTok or respond to texts or Snaps before it’s phones away as we eat. Sometimes one will send me a text with a link to a news story or an Instagram post featuring adorable dogs during the day.
At school, I catch my students stealing glances at their cell phone screens. I admonish them to put away and get back to work on lessons on their Chromebook or desktop computer. Sometimes they ask to go to the bathroom but I know they’re leaving to use their phone.
As a middle school teacher and parent of two high schoolers, I see kids accessing media in numerous ways throughout the day. Cell phones, laptops, and tablets provide convenience and connectivity. It’s hard to live without our devices but their prevalence makes conversations about digital safety more important than ever.
6 Conversations About Digital Safety Every Family Should Be Having
October is Cybersafety Month. While the designation brings awareness about important issues regarding internet and digital safety, these topics should always be on our radar. Conversations about digital safety don’t just happen through a single conversation. The conversations about digital safety you have with elementary age children change as they grow up into tweens and teens who we hope are becoming confident digital citizens.
Talking about digital safety often feels overwhelming. If you know you need to revisit this conversation, you’ve come to the right place! This post is full of helpful tips and resources to help you feel knowledgeable and empowered to have important conversations about digital safety during cybersafety month and beyond. Here are 6 questions you should be discussing as a family starting today.
What Does Our Relationship with Technology Look Like?
Conversations about digital safety and using digital devices can happen at any age but make them age appropriate and relevant to your family. Before talking with your children about digital safety, consider your relationship with technology. Gather data about how it’s being used in your house.
Google’s Digital Wellbeing site features an 8 question Self-Reflection Tool to help you evaluate your current experience with technology. The free Digital Wellbeing app from Google shows you how much time you’ve spent on your device and provides tips and tools to help you achieve your personal sense of digital wellness.
Information from free tools like the Family Link app from Google can also provide insight and facts about screen time. Sitting down as a family to and looking at how everyone spends their screen time can create a more positive conversation about technology use inside and outside your home.
What Should We Include in Our Family Technology Rules?
Reflecting on your relationship with technology and sharing results with your kids is a powerful way to demonstrate you want to work with them. Collaborating to create change is more impactful than just telling them to get off their phones, stop downloading apps, saying you don’t understand the attraction to watching gaming videos on YouTube, etc. Kids are more receptive to family technology rules when you create them together and The Smart Talk makes it easy.
This online tool is designed to help parents create conversations about digital safety and devices. It can be used to set ground rules about technology via a personalized and customizable technology contract for devices in your home.
I highly recommend using The Smart Talk to collaborate on technology rules. Make a plan to revisit the site as often as needed to update your family’s rules as your kids get older and the devices, apps, and social media tools they’re using changes.
How Do Phone Settings and Features Work to Keep Us Safe?
As you discuss family technology rules, take time to review phone settings and adjust them based on your needs. All smartphone carriers have built in safety features designed to keep our kids safe, but default settings might not be appropriate for your child. It’s important to adjust them based on their age and how you want them to be using their phone.
Cellular carriers have built in security measures that work to scan your smartphone and monitor it for malware and unsafe apps. You can also automatically block phone numbers from calling and texting.
Teaching kids about spam is an important conversation about digital safety. Work to help your children understand what spam is. Teach them that it can come in the form of unsolicited links or messages and clicking on information from unknown sources can put their devices and data at risk.
Let them know that spam is prevalent and it’s not their fault. Encourage them to come to you when they see links or messages from phone numbers they don’t know and aren’t in their contacts. Work together to report it.
Mobile phone carrier, TextNow, makes setting boundaries easy. Anyone using their service can simply text #STOP to block phone numbers. This prevents the person from calling or texting their number going forward. To unblock the number, just text #UNBLOCK and the restriction is lifted.
TextNow also understands that not everyone uses the internet for good. While they work hard to prevent users from using their service, they depend on users to help identify spammers. TextNow offers the ability to report any number as junk directly from text messages whether you’re an iOS or Android user.
Android users can press Report Junk to report this number as junk or spam. The message will automatically be deleted from your conversations.
They also offer Block Number in the pull-down menu accessible by clicking on the three dots in the top right of the app.
If you have an iOS device you can report a number as junk or spam by clicking Report located right in the conversation window. For more information about how to report spam, read How Can I Report Spam?
Incidents of fraud and harassment can be reported to TextNow by emailing them at abuse @ textnow.com but they encourage users to report serious cases of harassment or abusive behavior to local law enforcement. Read Help! I’m being harassed for more information about how to report serious cases of harassment or abusive behavior and the ways TextNow works with law enforcement in response to the lawful process.
How Can We Show Kindness in the Digital Space?
Bullying, both in-person and cyberbullying, is real and affects kids of all ages. According to research by Google, we know:
- 28% of students have personally experienced bullying
- 71% of students have been direct witnesses of bullying
- Only 20-30% of students notify adults of bullying
- Over 50% of parents are concerned about their child being bullied
As a parent, I’ve talked to my teens about the importance of being kind on and offline. At school, I remind my middle school students to be conscious of what they say in person and online. We know words hurt just us much in the digital space as they do in person.
But telling our kids to be kind is one thing. Having them practice it is another.
To disempower bullying behavior, Google has created Be Internet Awesome. Be Internet Awesome is a free multifaceted program designed to teach kids the fundamentals of digital citizenship and safety to explore the online world with confidence. It promotes the creation of healthy, productive spaces for our kids to interact.
It consists of five areas that address the importance of interacting positively:
- SMART: Share with care
- ALERT: Don’t fall for fake
- STRONG: How to secure our digital stuff
- KIND: Why it’s cool to be kind
- BRAVE: When in doubt, we talk it out
Be Internet Awesome provides tools to help kids address negativity when it arises and practice what to do in different scenarios through Interland. This free web-based game by Google that makes learning about digital citizenship a fun, engaging and hands-on experience.
It also includes free digital safety classroom curriculum for teachers and resources to equip us with tools and information to be safer online.
How Does Smartphone Monitoring Work to Keep Us Safe?
Social media is a lifeline for kids. It’s their social world outside of school but like any technology, it comes with risks and rewards. As parents, we’re more aware than ever of the risks associated with social media. While we may trust our kids on their devices, it can be a scary world out there so technology tools like Bark are here to help.
Bark is technology that keeps children safer online and in real life. It helps you stay on top of your kids’ online activity and communication. It monitors behind the scenes without invading their privacy thanks to artificial intelligence.
Bark’s AI keeps an eye on over 30 social media platforms, texting, and email accounts for problematic issues such as cyberbullying, sexting, potential drug use, acts of violence, profanity, online predators, thoughts of suicide and depression, and SO much more! To know what is monitored on Android, iOS, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, WhatsApp, YouTube, and more, read What Bark Monitors on the Different Platforms.
If you’re thinking Bark sounds like a way to helicopter parent, it’s not! Just like it’s an invasion of privacy to read your child’s diary, reading every single text, DM, and social media post is too. Bark preserves the autonomy your tween and teen crave. It provides alerts via text and email when an issue is detected but doesn’t reveal every sordid detail.
The alerts I get provide my kids with more privacy than traditional spot checking their accounts does. It’s also empowered me to have the tough conversation with my kids about these very important issues. Bark alerts come with recommended next steps for how to address and deal with these issues, enabling us to have critical conversations with our tweens and teens about these very tough topics, fostering trust and open communication.
Instead of just relying on keyword analysis, Bark uses advanced machine learning and statistical analysis to recognize potential problems as it reviews texts, photos, videos, etc.
Their sophisticated analysis engine helps keep kids safe online and in real life by extracting potential issues from connected accounts. It also helps to preserve the trust you’ve built with your kids. Kids appreciate that Bark gives them appropriate privacy and their parents can’t read everything they’re doing.
Sound like a dream come true? It is and it’s also a dream to set up! In just three quick steps, you can have Bark’s watchdog engine up and running by doing the following:
- Sign up for an account using your email address
- Sit down with your child to connect their social media accounts, text messages, and email
- Wait for Bark’s watchdog engine to analyze activity on your child’s accounts
Bark is $99/year for unlimited household devices or $9/month. Get 20% off Bark for the duration of your service with my referral code: F5XR2DV
The TextNow app also has a multiple device capability that will allow you to monitor your child’s use of the app. This includes the ability to log into their account (on your own phone, or perhaps desktop) and review their conversations without interruption to their daily use.
Why It’s Always Better to Be an Upstander Than a Bystander
The phrase “if you see something, say something” can be applied to so many different scenarios. It’s important to teach kids to be upstanders, rather than bystanders. Encourage them to speak up if they say something.
A conversation about being an upstander versus a bystander is a way to take a negative situation and put some positive learning behind it. Having this conversation leads to learning and empowerment. It helps your child feel like they can stand up and say something the next time they hear or see behavior they don’t agree with.
Start with teaching the difference between being a bystander and upstander. Google’s Be Internet Awesome provides these definitions that are important for tweens to know:
- Bystander: A witness to harassment or bullying who recognizes the situation but chooses not to intervene.
- Upstander: A witness to harassment or bullying who supports the target privately or publicly. It includes trying to stop and/or report the incident they witnessed.
Encourage your child to be an upstander by doing any of the following things:
- Finding a way to be kind to or support the person being targeted
- Calling out the mean behavior in a comment or reply. Remember to call out the behavior, not the person. If you feel comfortable with that and think it’s safe to do so.
- Deciding not to help the aggressor by spreading the bullying or making it worse by sharing the mean post or comment online
- Getting a bunch of friends to create a “pile-on of kindness.” This means posting lots of kind comments about the person being targeted. Avoid saying mean things about the aggressor, because you’re setting an example, not retaliating.
- Reporting the harassment. Tell someone who can help, like a parent, teacher, or school counselor
Sharing these strategies with your tweens helps them realize that simple actions can serve to help others.
And if your child isn’t comfortable standing up to someone publicly, them know they support the target privately by doing any of these things:
- Ask how they’re doing in a text or direct message
- Say something kind or complimentary in an anonymous post, comment, or direct message (if you’re using media that lets you stay anonymous)
- Tell them you’re there for them if they want to talk after school
- In a quiet conversation in person or on the phone, tell them you thought the mean behavior was wrong and ask if they feel like talking about what happened.
Kids should know that no matter how they choose to be an upstander, they have both public and private options for reporting. This could mean reporting bullying behavior via a website or application, or reporting what’s going on to a trusted adult at home or school.
TextNow’s tools and blog posts aim to educate and empower families to have conversations about digital safety topics. In addition to their mission of cybersafety, they bring people exceptional phone service for free, or as close to free as possible. TextNow’s app lets you call or text for free over WiFi. By downloading the TextNow app to your smartphone or tablet, or creating an account right from your desktop machine, you can get a real phone number to call and text for free.
This post was sponsored by TextNow but all opinions are my own.